Six ways to create innovation processes

Innovation and Development

It’s not about the eccentric genius: Six ways to create innovation processes

Posted 25 March

At Galway Business School, you can take up a Certificate in Innovation and New Enterprise Development programme if you wish to add a new skill to your knowledge. Here we look at ways that a company can encourage innovation through genuine culture and process changes.

There’s an enduring myth about innovation - and it’s not especially helpful for organisations looking for new ways to tackle their problems.

The myth centres around the seductive vision of the maverick genius. The Steve Jobs, the Elon Musk, the Jeff Bezos: the men (too often men) who create enormous organisations which invent new ways of doing things, seemingly out of nothing. Of course, these people do nothing to discourage the view that billions emerged from their own genius. And that they created a ‘culture of innovation’ that seems to feature a mix of fear of the omnipotent boss, alongside ultra-modern office buildings populated by intense figures wearing hoodies and an air of over-weaning ambition, while guzzling the free food and beer and working insanely long hours.

It’s a myth which has fuelled both the business pages of the newspapers and the fiction sections of bookshops for quite some time, but it’s just not helpful.

Innovation is more likely to come from processes rather than from the ‘inspiring leadership’ of that mad bloke on the 22nd floor. You can rely on your own ‘genius’, or you can consider these:

Be obvious about innovation

You can just ask for innovation. You don’t have to wait for some quirky genius to start thinking out of the box - just start demanding of your team that they look for ways to innovate. Make finding new routes to excellence in your core business part of the central ethos of the organisation. Talk endlessly of reinvention and even, if you must, talk of ‘disruption’. Just never stop banging on about it - and make sure everyone knows you really mean it.

Set aside time 

Making demands of that nature means giving people time too. People need to be unafraid that any time spent on this won’t be seen as skiving. Google, famously, set aside 10% of time in their workers’ schedules for them to think about things other than their jobs. Easier said than done in some industries, but it’s vital to set aside some thinking space to find ways to do things better - even if it’s only finding 15 minutes at the end of a team meeting for one of the staff members to showcase a new response to an old problem. Make it an expectation and make the space.

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Don’t micromanage the process

Creating the space for innovation is great - but don’t dive in too early and try and make it part of your organisation's brand.   Adopting new ideas for the sheer kudos of it (‘Look! We’ve found something new and shiny!’)  without thinking about how they can be properly integrated can kill an idea forever. There has to be a benefit, to the company or the consumer, or it has to solve a problem. The danger of innovation fatigue is that your team will grunt ‘we tried that once’ every time an idea even vaguely similar crops up. So allow time to test theories and think through ideas and the ways in which they can be adopted.

For ideas as to how to deliver that, try Intuit’s Catalyst Toolkit, a guide that was made available to all employees and the public and which includes ‘self-serve ingredients for cooking up innovation.’ Forgive them that phraseology, it’s still useful.

Measure success

What’s right is what works, but what works might vary. Innovations can save time, cost, and resources but can also increase sales, brand profile or win awards. Whatever the desired outcome, measure the improvements that new ideas are supposed to bring. In the end, it may show up on the balance sheet but there’s lots of things to measure ahead of that (cost, time, resources etc) which are pretty strong indicators as to whether you’re on the right track.

Give rewards

Rewarding innovation is vital, but financial incentives can create division in the team. A successful idea has many parents. Give ‘worthless’ rewards insteads - have ceremonies where you note the strides individuals have taken, but reward them with low-grade prizes. Validate their invention, but don’t create disharmony amongst those who are still at the coalface and delivering your core work every day, and genuinely don’t have the time to think creatively.

If you can get some of these embedded, you’ll be on the way to new approaches to at least some of your problems. Innovation isn’t the preserve of the megalomaniac few, it can emerge out of process as much as inspiration. A company that makes innovation possible is one that is likely to find it.

At Galway Business School you can learn to deliver innovation through a Certificate in Innovation and New Enterprise Development programme as part of our Bachelor of Business (Hons) with International Business. Or browse all of the business courses we have available. 

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