Some recent readings on innovation have set me thinking about the challenges we face to drive innovation, both within our company and with our clients. In launching a recent report, the OECD highlighted the need for a coordinated approach to technological change and innovation. While the OECD is focussed more on government-level policies, the theme of a coordinated approach struck a chord.
Often when we think of innovation, we believe it is centred on a single bright idea or ‘eureka moment’. Maybe we just have to be in the right place at the right time and that idea will come to us? Thomas Edison said that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, and so it is with innovation. Once we have a bright idea, then the hard slog starts to bring that idea to something tangible – whether it’s a new product, process or service. Often our idea can morph from that original vision to a very different end-result from where we started.
Many organisations look internally for ideas, by hosting workshops or forums, be they in-person or online, to gather ideas from staff. This can often work well, as enthusiastic staff often have fantastic suggestions to improve from within.
So the first challenge starts with filtering a barrage of ideas that might come from these forums. The organisation needs to be able to recognise the good ideas, and weed out others, without disempowering the staff who took the effort to provide input.
The next challenge is to have enough drive and flexibility within the organisation to act on the good ideas, and that can take a lot of effort. It means prioritising away from business-as-usual, bringing together the appropriate combination of skills and people, across all levels, to collaborate and develop those ideas. And it’s often not a quick fix – development of one innovative idea can take months or years.
Many innovative ideas fail because of a lack of careful follow-up and nurturing, through investment of people and skills, as well as financial investment. Getting that mix right, and keeping it that way, is perhaps the biggest challenge of all, and also brings the most satisfying rewards.