Where Does Your Innovation Strategy Begin?

Can a business innovate if it's not trying? Have you ever been in a company meeting where the word innovation is tossed around quite a bit? I have experienced this in my career with both small and large companies. I have also seen and heard the word innovation talked about in meetings from many different divisions within a company; Marketing, IT and product development to name a few. When you see and hear innovation talked about time and time again and don't see any evidences of it actually occurring, it may be time to kick-start an innovation strategy or time to stop using the word innovation completely.

If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.
- Charles Kettering

Does a Business Need a Strategy to Innovate?

Yes, of course you need a strategy to innovate. But, what in the world does this look like? Where do you start? What staff needs to be trained and included in the crafting of this strategy? Wait, there's something else; do you need a budget? Are their certain technologies that can be more helpful in driving your innovative efforts? Hmm... All of these questions are critical to think about. There is not one clear innovation strategy that is a one-size fits all for businesses to embark in the innovation process. However, there are some simple things you can do to stimulate innovative thinking and actions before a formal strategy is in place. Here are three simple ways to kick-start the innovative process.

1. Talk To Start-ups and Their Employees: Ask them how they are innovating in their business. Inquire about their innovation strategy and see if pieces of it will work for your company. You will be surprised how other companies and industries crossover, especially when it comes to innovative thinking and even predictive innovation. Use other companies previously laid groundwork to ignite your innovation strategy.

2. Collaborative Thinking Model: Whenever you bring bright minds together in the interest of innovation, the chances are greater the bright ideas come to life. How does a company get ideation started inside the business? Here's a sample question you can ask your employees to get conversations started. "If you could do anything in your job over the next year without boundaries and without budget implications, what would you do to advance the mission of the company?" The creative, entrepreneurial employees will probably come up with some good ideas in short order. These are the people you really want to bring into the conversation frequently. Create a think tank inside your company and leverage the most creative minds.

3. Time and Space: Whenever I get innovative ideas, usually it's because I've given myself some free time to think and space away from daily tasks at work. In other words, I have allowed my brain to think freely, which lets new ideas enter in and percolate for some creative thought. This usually happens for me when I travel, when I am on vacation, riding my bike or listening to music. Once you decide to handpick your company think tank, don't forget to give them the same time and space you give yourself. They need time and space to think of innovative ideas just like you do.

The trouble is that innovation involves trying to hit a moving target. Environments constantly shift and pose new threats - new technologies appear, new markets emerge, the regulatory framework changes - and unless organizations have the capacity to innovate their approaches to innovation they may not survive in the long term.
- John Bessant

Innovation Is the Entire Company

Innovation isn't just the product development team coming up with new ideas, or even the think tank we discussed earlier. Innovation comes in many forms and variations. Some people think about innovation as a new product or device the world needs. Others may say it is something that has never been produced before. I also think there are creative types like me that believe innovation can also come in the form of an intuitive process and the use of existing technologies integrated within that process. My point here is, innovation is not any one thing. It can transcend time, space and employees if you let it. Besides the handpicked think tank, open up the new idea process to the entire company and see what you get. You just might be surprised at what ideas rise to the top. Sometimes unlikely people in unlikely departments have fantastic ideas that can energize your innovation strategy.

Innovation is creativity with output and that's really important. You need people to both think outside the box and also leverage the power of the organisation to make something work. - Hester Lacey (Forbes.com)

In my opinion, some businesses tend to think innovation happens just because innovation is talked about in business meetings. Guess what, if you think it's happening just because you hear the word innovation, you're probably kidding yourself. It's time to invest in your staff as a focus priority. Your investment in them can foster a culture of innovation. Additionally, these employees are the ones that may surprise you with incredible ideas that could be the next game changer.