Outcome Driven Innovation – your best approach to become an innovative company
10 minute read.
We often think of Innovation as someone like Steve Jobs plucking ideas out of thin air, a genius before his or her time. However, we want to encourage you to start thinking of Innovation as not only an idea but also the ability to create impact from this idea.
The emphasis on the genius behind the idea neglects how important implementation is to create impact, hurting innovation efforts as a whole and excluding those personalities that flourish in structured implementation.
Although there are many paths to achieving innovation, it is a marriage between creative new ideas and disciplined focus on implementing good ideas. This is the reason that we suggest a project approach to implementing innovation at your organisation.
By achieving real business outcomes through design led projects, your organisation will see both the creative and disciplined side of innovation and make cultural shifts towards embedding innovation within your company.
OUTCOME DRIVEN INNOVATION
Let’s face it. Your company isn’t innovative. You know it, your manager knows it, and the CEO knows it. The world has changed significantly over your career. Large tech companies dominate the business headlines, and smaller, more nimble competitors are starting to appear in the market, eating away small bits of your market share. Your company’s leaders don’t exactly know how to address this issue, but they know that they need “innovation”. What does this mean? It likely means you are asked to organise a workshop or training.
Several meetings later, you now have your budget and instructions in hand. You have to find a facilitator to organise a design thinking workshop or hackathon of some sort. You don’t know exactly what it will entail, but you know that you have a deadline to get it done and your main task is to hire someone to complete the workshop within a given timeframe.
Several months later, the session has just wrapped up. You’ve put sticky notes all over the walls. Your whole team is smiling, you’ve all learned a few things about Design Thinking, and you’ve identified some great ideas. You feel good. Everyone feels good. But has anything changed? What has been the impact?
An organisation can leverage events and workshops to start something new, but it’s only useful if it leads to impact. For many organisations, the ideas from a session like these are rarely actioned. They die slow deaths in desk drawers or unused shared folders called “Innovation 2020”, forgotten by responsible individuals as their normal work takes precedence. The team is able to cross innovation off their to do list, but they are not able to actually solve any of their problems. It creates a false sense of completion. And after several months when Leaders decide that they are still not innovative, the whole cycle begins again, and you are tasked with finding a facilitator and buying more Sticky Notes.
It’s time to get real and start looking to creating impact through innovation. The road will be different for each organisation, but a design led project is a much better place to start than a workshop. It can lead to tangible, substantial business results while shifting the culture in the right direction.
What is Innovation?
Innovation is a nebulous concept. There are a lot of definitions and the word is relentlessly used. It’s one of the most followed hashtags on LinkedIn with over 38,880,00 followers. I personally feel like it doesn’t need a definition and that it works well as an emotive state rather than a ridged framework. It should create a call to action rather than an academic inquiry. When we work with a firm with a strong desire to define innovation, we find that it leads to wasting time. So, I don’t want to spend time defining it now. I doubt I can get everyone in my office to agree on a definition, and we live and breathe innovation every day, so let’s not go down this rabbit hole. What I want to encourage is that when you do think of innovation, at its most basic, it consists of two components: an idea and impact.
There are many ways to achieve new ideas and create impact. (And it should be noted that impact should evolve us as a species and the planet – not simply in monetary terms.) The success of this process can be dependent on the potency of the idea or the effectiveness of how it’s implemented.
The Strategy Group has its preferred method, which, not surprisingly, puts the customer at the centre of both ideation and implementation. Our approach is described below, but for the time being let’s discuss ideas and impact.
The balancing of these two components (ideas and impact) illustrates both the art and science of innovation, the importance of communication and collaboration as well as effective decision making and execution. There is a time when everyone needs to say “Yes, and”, and a time for everyone to say “Yes, but” and even “No”. It takes a lot for a company to be good at innovation and to do it well, an organisation must master both creativity and discipline while weaving back and forth, managing the tensions between these ways of working.
There are very few innovative companies because it’s not easy to accomplish. Innovation is most effective when it’s incorporated into an organisation’s culture. It drives business results i.e. better financial returns performance, and it creates a business environment that employees want to be a part of. To make changes in an organisation, it takes dedicated, courageous and skilled leaders, and the ability to patiently work towards embedding creativity and discipline into the organisation’s strategy, systems and culture. While it is worth the effort and we encourage everyone to continue striving to bring innovation into their business, we also think it is necessary to think more deeply into the subject and look for new ways to drive it into your business.
CREATIVITY & DISCIPLINE
One of my favourite articles from the past year, titled ‘The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures’ by Dr. Gary P Pisano, does a lot better job of articulating this than I ever could. Rather than echoing Pisano’s main points, I will outline them below.
When I first read Pisano’s article in the HBR, it summed up many of the ideas I had read about over the last few years in a concise structure. I made my way through several related books like Radical Candor by Kim Scott, Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull and The Everything Store by Brad Stone. These are wonderful books and there is a lot to learn from them, however, reading Pisano’s article tied all these concepts together. The only disagreement I have, and maybe it’s the idealist in me, is that it is possible for innovation to flourish in flat organisations with tensions and a lack of strong leadership. It is uncommon across our tech champions, but it is certainly possible.
How does The Strategy Group embed creativity and discipline?
The Strategy Group works across what we call our “three pillars”. These are Innovation, Customer Strategy and Business Transformation. Design Thinking then gives us the foundation of our approach for all of this work. It’s tidy and straightforward on paper, but in reality, we often need to work across these pillars to add value, and in some cases, we must play across all three pillars to transform an organisation. One thing that is consistent though, is that we look for ways to both evolve the organisation culturally while making sure our engagements are connected towards action.
One of the key characteristics that make The Strategy Group different is that we come from entrepreneurial backgrounds. All the Directors own or have owned businesses. This means we know the importance of practical action. We don’t measure our results by the number of words in our reports but by our impact on our client’s business and organisations. This means that in order to feel like we have done a good job, we need to see results. A friend of mine, and an excellent strategic consultant (read, a thinker not a doer), said half joking, “I’ve never even delivered a pizza”. That emphasis on delivery and planning for action, is one of The Strategy Group’s key differentiators.
Let’s look at a few ways that we link both the creative process and the disciplined implementation – blending right brain and left brain thinking.
Drive Implementation Through Strategy
Although this is an oversimplified diagram, it illustrates our objective to link engagements to an action plan. It is common for us to end an engagement, such as a customer experience engagement, with a full day strategy session with our client’s leadership team. This links our findings from our engagement to their future strategy. Our clients then go through a prioritisation process. They know exactly what they are and are not focusing on. Responsible individuals have been identified and target dates are agreed. The responsible people know their targets and what success looks like. They can then implement using whatever method that works best for them such as agile methodology. The Strategy Group supports the organisation on a regular basis to help them achieve this plan, including reviews and amending elements if need be. This typically takes place quarterly or biannually. We want to encourage positive impact through these efforts, and if we are not seeing it, we need to adjust and refocus.
Our customer-led innovation process is another approach that aligns creativity with a disciplined implementation. This is a robust process founded in design thinking. We have tools to encourage creativity when needed, such as the Creative Detour, and then to encourage a systematic, disciplined approach when needed, such as benchmarking and ongoing measurements. We have used this process to develop products and take them to market. Our team has used this process to commercialise products and services worth over $500 million AUD – real impact on business and their clients.
Bringing Innovation into your company
It takes years to truly transform your organisation by embedding innovation into the culture. Success might actually start with a one-day facilitation, but we encourage all companies to go further and look to achieve your organisational objectives using design thinking. Creating real positive business impact through design led projects is the best path towards organisational adoption.
As each innovation project is implemented, the organisation makes a cultural shift – sometimes a big shift and sometimes a small shift. Project-by-project progress is made and through this process people see the benefits and more and more people learn about innovation. Those closest to the projects will learn real skills in how to embed specific tools and techniques into their work, leading to better ideas and more effective implementation.
The next time innovation appears on your to do list, look for your largest problems and start talking about how design thinking can help you solve these problems. It’s only when you and your organisation’s leaders see real impact that you will understand the real possibilities of innovation. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
By Sam Woodcock & Pratima Kalmadi.
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