Author: Donald Farmer
Innovation. Everyone’s talking about it, but beyond being just a buzzword, it’s worth asking, “Why?”
In general companies wish to innovate for three reasons:
- In a rapidly changing business environment, innovation is essential just to stay relevant.
- Innovation helps us to stay agile and thus provide advantages over less dynamic businesses.
- Innovation emerges from and, in return, nourishes a creative work culture that employees, clients and partners can enjoy.
Innovation, by its nature, entails free-flowing idea generation. Too many guardrails and limitations hinder progress. However, a lack of purpose and sustained focus on desired outcomes will similarly impede successful innovation.
Our ultimate purpose for innovation is to provide higher value to our clients. To best serve others, we recognized the need to first nurture a culture of innovation within RevGen.
Best Practices and Challenges
Innovation is not easy to do. You can’t just tell employees to go forth and be creative. And innovation is not easy to manage. How do you measure the benefits of invention and govern the process?
The most important practice for all innovative companies is to be tolerant of failure. That does not mean being careless or blind to risk. It does mean recognizing that not all innovations succeed. When you are pushing at the boundaries of what is possible, sometimes you’ll push past the line.
Effective innovation requires understanding the risks, monitoring them, and being ready to redirect or refocus efforts when necessary.
It’s also important to recognize that innovation may emerge anywhere in your business. You can be innovative in hiring, in marketing, in sales, in product and service design, in supply-chain management, and even (but be careful) in finance.
A great way to infuse structure and focus in your approach to innovation is by starting with a comprehensive workshop to explore some basic ideas.
- What does innovation mean to you?
- How is innovation happening elsewhere in your business world?
- How will you organize innovation in your business and how will you manage it?
- How will you make space for new ideas and how will you recognize and reward your innovators?
Our Innovation Council and Guiding Principles
We started by establishing an Innovation Council consisting of some of our most dynamic thinkers and leaders. The Council worked with external advisors and select clients to identify guiding principles for a yearlong immersion in innovation:
- Listen: Implement mechanisms that enable us to effectively and efficiently listen to the market, our customers’ needs, and our employees’ ideas
- Experiment: Pilot new ideas quickly and swiftly pivot away from those that don’t appear to be viable
- Increase internal awareness: Raise employee awareness about the value of innovation, and its benefits to our clients and prospects
With a company filled with smart, action-oriented people, we wanted to avoid the trap of diving in with no clear direction. We recognized that success hinges on something deeper and more meaningful than yet another “innovation lab” or fancy technology. Thus, we sought a method to drive toward our desired outputs with speed and agility.
- Identify stakeholders: Our current and prospective clients, our employees, and the vast expanse of experts and advisors available to us
- Define the outputs: Ideas, proofs of concepts (POC), and points of view (POV)
- Design a right-sized process: (see illustration below)
Why does this work?
If you’re looking for an innovation secret sauce, you may be disappointed. What you’ll see instead is a thoughtfully developed recipe with several significant stages. In particular, notice the regular checkpoints and the progress from many contributors to a few shared, collaborative ideas. At each step there’s an opportunity for ideas to be shelved without negativity (remember the tolerance for failure) or further enhanced by teamwork and external inputs.
Year One Accomplishments
We channeled the collective passion and intelligence of our RevGen colleagues and external advisors to immerse ourselves in innovation, have fun, and declare significant year one accomplishments:
- 52 Contributors – We invited all of our employees to participate in crowdsourcing ideas (using the knowledge-sourcing tool POPin) that could drive value for our clients.
- 6 Innovators, 7 Concept Briefs, 2 Themes – From the ideas submitted, six innovators developed seven concept briefs which fit within two themes.
- 2 Maker Teams – A team formed around each theme to create a proof of concept (POC) which could be brought to market.
- Team Say Anything – Digital customer interaction leveraging natural language processing and unstructured data
- Team VIPAR – Analytics through enterprise virtual personal assistants leveraging Alexa and BI data sources
- 1 Winner – In a gameshow format with audience voting at a company-wide event, Team VIPAR was awarded the Golden Idea trophy on the basis of demand, feasibility, and viability.
In addition to evolving both of our POCs as potential solutions to bring to market, we are continuing to nurture and mature our innovation process.
As we continue to infuse innovation in everything we do as an organization, we’re positioning ourselves to add unparalleled value to our clients in the form of ideas and offerings. Like change, innovation starts at home.
Robert Sunker and Susan O’Connell co-created RevGen’s Innovation Council with outside guidance and wisdom from Donald Farmer.
Contact us to learn more about how RevGen can help your organization explore approaches to innovation.