By Julian Kezelman
Often the most difficult part of innovating is getting others to see and buy into your dream. Conquer that, and execution is (almost) a formality.
Former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki sums it: “If you believe it, you will see it”.
“When it comes to innovation, many people have the attitude that if I can see it, I’ll believe it,” Kawasaki says. “But if you truly want to be innovative it’s the opposite.”
Kawasaki speaks of how Apple launched the Macintosh with no software or users. You may also find yourself in a similar situation with little to prove that your idea is the correct course of action.
So how do you win over naysayers, get senior management to buy into your idea and make friends with those who will be instrumental in its evolution?
At The Strategy Group, we use a methodology that assesses the innovation readiness of an organisation. It considers cultural factors such as an organisation’s risk appetite, management structure and attitudes to experimentation. We find that almost every organisation wants to be innovative – until they’re called to innovate. It’s then that cultural inertia, conservatism, self-doubt and competing politics often crush an idea before it has a chance.
Innovation programs often launch to fanfare but quickly lose traction and fail. For innovation to succeed, often the best approach is to start small at the grassroots with passion, customers and little or no budget.
From our experience activating innovation in organisations, here are five tactics that are helpful to win people to your innovation idea:
Start small (but just get started) – Innovation is a scary word that conjures up big, risky projects but it need not be. Innovation also happens in small ways like improving processes and through incremental change. There may even be projects underway in the organisation that need an innovation twist. If you can reboot a project and show immediate benefits by recasting it you will win converts very quickly. This might mean using design thinking—a human-centred approach to problem solving that focuses on the needs of the users—and open innovation that looks for solutions outside the business.
Have a clear reason to innovate – Don’t innovate for the sake of innovation or because you feel pressure from elsewhere to ‘keep up’. Start with the end in mind and have a specific project that needs work. Identify an immediate market opportunity or threat that needs innovation or a new approach to solve an existing, difficult problem.
Gather and report metrics – It’s a truism that we only value what we measure, and so it is in innovation projects. Set and collect performance metrics and targets to inform your decisions and provide a benchmark for improvement. These may also be used to report back to management, cutting project risk while showing leaders threats they are yet to consider.
Form a ‘coffee coalition’ – Do you know who else is keen to kickstart innovation? Even in small organisations, you won’t know every project or plan sketched on the back of a napkin and stuffed in someone’s top drawer. Socialise with the likeminded over regular, informal chats. Share ideas and approaches to build a support base. Enterprise social media tools such as Yammer and Jive—or even Facebook and Google—help to build alliances quickly.
Hold leaders to their rhetoric – How often have you heard an executive exhort innovation but lack follow-through? If you hear the magic words: innovation, Agile, Lean or “start-up culture” that’s all the permission you need to go forth and conquer. However, if you promote an idea to the leadership, be prepared to shoulder it so they don’t feel like you’re dumping responsibility on their plate.
Innovation can be scary but it doesn’t need to be. If you have an idea, just get started.
Remember: You have to believe it to see it.
Need some help to kickstart your innovation idea? The Strategy Group can help. Call us on +612 9388 9925 or email me for a chat: firstname.lastname@example.org