Moving Innovation From an Outcome to an Enabler

Filed Under Innovation

three lamp
Harvey Wade

November 12, 2013

The call for organisations to be innovative is becoming deafening. Everywhere a CEO looks, people are asking about the next big thing, wanting to know how they’re solving problems, and how they plan to make the most of the opportunities in front of them. It’s hard to ignore the noise, and so one-by-one, executives are starting to accept and understand that they have to be innovative to keep their business relevant and successful.

Great start – but what’s next?

Ready, Aim, Fire

Anybody can make a decision; it’s the actions taken next that will determine success. The executive team are all on-board the good ship Innovation, and once on their way, give the infamous rallying cry to their troops: “We need your ideas!”

Encouraging? Yes. Inspiring? Probably. Will it be successful? Unlikely.

Surely, one of the key factors of successful innovation is strong leadership support and sponsorship. This is being very clearly displayed throughout various global organisations, but a key tenet of innovation has been missed. The target to aim at has not been explicitly called out.

By means of a metaphor, let me explain. Think of ideas as arrows. Arrows are dormant and not very useful on their own. Good to have, but not really bringing any benefit by sitting idly in your quiver. When fired, they become active, but if they don’t hit the target, again, are not bringing value. Success is only achieved when an arrow is fired and it hits the intended target.

It’s the same with ideas. If you have lots of ideas that are being discussed, but no one knows what the target is, then you’re unlikely to be innovating successfully. You can be sure that there is huge amount of innovation activity, but you’re relying on chance and serendipity for success. Gambling is always a bad idea – unless, of course, you own the casino.

Too Many Lightbulbs, Not Enough Switches

So, back to our problem and forecast of doom. By simply asking people for ideas, without providing the targets that innovation needs to solve, you’ll end up buried in far too many possibilities, with no way to find and implement those that bring impact and value.

You have made ideas the outcome, rather than an enabler of success.

Many people say that they are innovating, but are in fact treating innovation and having ideas as a task. I went to work, I wrote an email, I had a meeting, I had an idea. Innovation just becomes another task that needs to be prioritised in a busy day. Sure, you’re getting ideas, but innovation is not a core activity – worse, it’s often easily displaced by other activities.

A way to tell if innovation is an outcome is when there is more excitement in the number of ideas than when particular ideas are implemented. To be truly successful in innovation, innovation must become the enabler of business success. Rather than first asking for ideas, the targets must be identified.

Innovation must become the “how” instead of the “what.”

Strategy Over Serendipity

What are the strategic imperatives where innovation is needed? Where has an objective or goal been stated, but how it will be achieved still unknown? Innovation does not need to rely on serendipity; it can become strategic and managed. Corporate creativity can be harnessed and channelled into the areas where it is needed.

And as a result? Ideas are impactful and valuable, since they’re enabling strategic goals to be met.

When you achieve this, everyone will understand his or her role in innovation and how key it is to the current and future success of the organisation. Some have the ideas, some make the ideas better, and others implement them; the “corporate” innovation team is collaboratively and effectively at work.

Don’t just seek out ideas because you’re constantly being pushed to innovate. Don’t panic. Take a step back, identify where innovation is needed, map out a strategic foundation, and then demand that your people ideate with a clear target in their sights. Innovation is no longer a luxury – it’s become a necessity that you cannot afford to get wrong.


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  • Sanjay Abraham

    Whenever I go to my customers, invariably, I see the ‘vision statement’, ‘quality policy’ shining at the entrance lobby…which tells what the organisations want to achieve 5 years down the line. Some want to excel in customer delight….others want to be the leader in their space. However, I feel, vision could never be realized if there isn’t any collaborative sharing of ideas focused at this vision and methods & dedicated efforts to implement them.