- Trends having an impact on how people think about “Innovation”
Three trends that we have observed accelerating recently.
Over the 55 years we have been working in the innovation business, we have observed a lot of changes come and go. It has been important to be able to identify what are the important fundamental shifts that are going to last for many years and change the way clients approach their challenges and opportunities versus the fads and manias that burn red hot for a budget cycle or two. The fads are usually associated with a particular book that has gained a lot of awareness, but that do not stand the test of time because they have not been tested in the marketplace sufficiently. We believe that there are three significant trends that have been emerging over the past several years.
There is more focus on implementation. Increasingly, clients are not as interested in generating new ideas. Clients tell us that they have lots of ideas but the challenge is bringing those ideas to market. Companies need to focus their innovation skills to nurture new ideas through the development stages of incubation and implementation. New ideas need to be supported by the teams that created them and not turned over to people with no commitment to the idea or its development or ultimate implementation. New ideas are should not be held to rigorous standards of potential return, which are impossible to accurately calculate for truly breakthrough ideas. We need to be careful not to kill our ideas before they are fully developed, by applying too stringent a process or measurement. One of the major reasons that companies cite for the “failure of innovation” is the failure to bring breakthrough ideas to market. The shift in focus to the impact of the innovative process on the incubation and implementation stages should result in a significantly improved return on investments. And significantly more innovations making it into the market.
Individuals and teams no longer have the time to devote to significant “special projects”. Since the downturn in 2008-2009, organizations, in general, are running with very lean staffing. Everyone has a fully scheduled full time job and has an extremely difficult time finding hours, never mind days or weeks to spend on a special project to help work on a project to develop new products. The increase of technology has further made it difficult for people to disconnect from their full time jobs. When you get them working on the special project, their attention is divided by emails, texts and other communications flowing into them night and day. Finally, very few organizations have set up a compensation system that recognizes special projects. An individual’s comp review is going to be based upon the metrics set up for their normal position. This leaves an individual with little incentive to stretch themselves to exceed expectations on a special project – there is not going to be any reward.
There are many solutions to address this dilemma. One thing we can all agree on is that we cannot simply stop innovation projects, they are essential to the long term success of the business. First, it is essential that projects be run in as short a time frame as possible. There is a limit to how much it can be reduced but through extensive pre-planning and design, Synecticsworld can minimize the amount of time that the client team needs to be involved and really ensure that every minute is used productively. Further, by making the sessions engaging, insightful and highly energetic, people usually return to their full time positions with a new view of their role in the company, a renewed commitment, and increased energy. Finally, companies do need to create special compensation systems to reward people for their contributions to special projects. The compensation does not always need to be financial. Public acknowledgement by senior management, some meaningful non-cash reward may be suitable compensation for contributors.
Decision making has become more consensus based. When we introduce Roles and Responsibilities in our meetings, we say that the Client has the responsibility for making decisions and giving direction to the group. Increasing, the Client wants to share that responsibility. Not because they can’t make the decisions but because they feel that by the team making the decisions there is more commitment to execution. Sharing the decision making makes everybody feel more valued as a member of the team. Further, sharing the decision making provides more input and allows better decisions. These are all desired outcomes and are great for building climate and teamwork. But they are not necessarily great for innovation.
Group decision making is almost always going to coalesce around safer, conventional solutions. People want to work within their comfort zone, work with what they are familiar. Synectics believes that one of the keys to innovation is courageous selection. The willingness to step outside your comfort zone and select an idea that seems very intriguing. An idea that you have no idea how you could make work. We look to the client to make those courageous selections, to pick ideas that are intriguing to them, that feel genuinely new, that they don’t have any idea how they could make it happen. Clients can make those selections, groups rarely will. We will push for the client to act alone, while recognizing that sometimes the dynamics of the group require a consensus approach.