Innovate or Perish

By James Todhunter  |  Posted 2008-10-30 Print this article Print

In this economy, innovation is imperative for corporate survival and individual success.

Your CEO is demanding that you quicken the pace of innovation with a process that is sustainable—not an ad hoc plan. And, yes, these innovations have to be done tomorrow.

You understand that in this economy, innovation is imperative for corporate survival and individual success, but you’re not sure how to use innovation to help your company succeed and grow during these tough times. And you want to know how to train your team to innovate.

Fortunately, you do have the necessary tools to respond to your CEO’s demands and make innovation a repeatable, predictable process—and you don’t have to wait for that “eureka” moment. By combining technology with a change in corporate philosophy, you can meet and sustain your CEO’s innovation demands. Here are some tips for innovation success:

Make innovation a priority. The best way to promote creativity and innovation is to lead by example. You have to be thinking innovation in everything you do.

Encourage your staff to work their creative mojo and adopt technology that will allow them to validate ideas. This will show your commitment to innovation and will ensure that your team is never stuck in neutral—or worse, in reverse.

Educate staff about business goals. Managers must deliver on their CEOs’ innovation demands to keep the business profitable and competitive. As a manager, you must ensure that business strategy is integrated into your innovation initiatives and that employees understand how their innovations will affect the company’s bottom line and their personal goals.

Incorporate structured timelines, and keep innovation dialogue fresh and open for ideas. No one can work in a vacuum, and creativity doesn’t blossom in an oppressive environment.

Create an innovation culture. Provide infrastructure that enables your employees to learn what is happening within and outside their industry, and leverage internal expertise and knowledge to add value to the innovation process. Learn what your competitors are doing, analyze their patent filings and map out technology trends.

Often, knowledge workers are stuck within their industry. But if you observe what companies in different industries are doing, you’ll get ideas that will help drive innovation in your organization.

Step out of your comfort zone. To broaden your horizon, it’s important to keep your eyes and ears open at all times and move away from what you know. Encourage your team to do the same. Create an environment where innovators are willing to take chances, try something different and think outside their area of expertise.

Motivate, don’t intimidate. When you ask your team members to step out of their comfort zone, there’s a chance they may fail. That’s part of the innovation process. You should look at the failure as a learning experience and not punish them for thinking outside the box. Otherwise, no one will stick his or her neck out and think differently.

Collaborate to excel. Create a community to drive collaboration and innovation. By creating a framework in which members of interdisciplinary groups are connected and share information, you will be better able to align resources and goals to achieve breakthrough innovations.

When this framework allows innovation workers to readily tap into each other’s expertise without extra effort, the benefits of collaboration are increased. Such a passive collaboration environment also has the benefit of enabling natural collaboration with global experience.

In addition, you can tap into patent databases, which house 80 percent of the world’s technical knowledge, to solve your innovation challenges or clear intellectual-property hurdles. You also can stay on top of government regulations, especially those related to the environment.

James Todhunter is CTO of Invention Machine, an innovation software company. In his “Innovating to Win” blog, he offers insights on building high-performance teams that can drive sustainable innovation.

James Todhunter is CTO of Invention Machine.

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