"Fear is not the enemy," says entrepreneur Seth Godin. "Paralysis is the enemy."
You can’t afford to be static in business. The marketplace, your customers, and your competitors constantly change. You must adapt to new circumstances, as well as improve and innovate.
However, innovation management doesn't happen without special attention. New ideas are the result of process, elbow grease, and intentional action.
In other words, idea generation will take some work, but it shouldn’t add a heavy burden to yourself or your team. Here are five tips for cultivating a culture of workplace innovation without burning everybody out in the process.
1. Don’t Get Stuck in the Same Culture You’ve Always Had
Innovation management is a team sport. That means everyone has a role to play in the game and its results. Everyone’s voice is worth hearing, and you never know where or who the next brilliant idea will come from. Studies have shown the best results come from being willing to innovate with new ideas and share them with colleagues.
That means three things in particular:
- Learning to treat failure as an opportunity.
- Creating a space for people to express their ideas fearlessly.
- Seeking out contradiction rather than affirmation.
You may have some extroverts on your team, but not everyone will be brimming with energy and waiting to express themselves at every opportunity. Those who have this temperament have the potential to inadvertently dominate the conversation, which isn’t ideal for innovation management. True idea generation requires you to hear from everyone.
You’ve chosen the people on your team for a reason. Each person brings a unique skill-set and perspective to the table, so it’s vital to hear from them all. Ultimately, success comes from forming a team that can generate innovative ideas, as well as refine and execute them.
2. Don’t Create Initiatives That Distract From Your Organization’s Overall Initiatives
Google is a prime example of a company that welcomes innovation but also knows how to stay focused. They utilize a “golden rule” of 70-20-10 to divide their work time:
- 70 percent devoted to core-level initiatives vital to their business, such as the AdWords advertising platform or refining their evergreen search engine
- 20 percent devoted to secondary initiatives for their business model, such as Google Earth and other projects
- 10 percent devoted to what they call “moonshot projects” — the seemingly unattainable long-shot initiatives that might be attainable, such as Google X
The important lesson here is to discern the necessary activities in your organization, funnel the majority of your human and financial resources toward that, and leave some time leftover for less pressing projects.
How that looks for you will depend on the particulars of your organization. Thomas Edison said that “Genius is 99 percent perspiration and one percent inspiration.” Under 70-20-10, your team will always work on your inspired ideas in some capacity and dedicate brainpower to continuous improvement.
Hard work is where the pedal meets the metal. Innovation management is about idea generation followed up by mastery and execution. Even if you fail, you will have left it all on the field and gained valuable experience for next time. Failure is part of the process.
Fun fact: Thomas Edison failed 1000 times before getting it right.
3. Don’t Use Suggestion Boxes
Despite their popularity, suggestion boxes are often too simplistic and low effort to be truly useful. Their anonymity means a lack of ownership, which means a lack of responsibility and earnestness. People can drop an idea in a box knowing it’ll never come back to them, and meanwhile, managers have neither the time nor inclination to give them their due. They can quickly become like meandering internet comments — a repository of intentions and background noise.
True innovation management is about fostering an open-minded culture where people can express their ideas freely. That naturally creates a self-selection bias; people will likely think twice before taking ownership of an implausible idea, which helps them bring forward their higher quality ideas overall.
Here are more reasons why you should skip the suggestion box:
- When someone pulls your idea from a hat and implements it, it ceases to be “your” idea. You’ve given it away.
- The people responsible for reviewing and approving suggestion box ideas spend a lot of time that could have gone elsewhere.
- Suggestion boxes tend to “bottleneck.” It can take a long time to receive feedback on an idea you put in, and, over time, people lose faith that their ideas are being seen at all.
- Out of the small percentage of suggestion box ideas that actually reach implementation, only a small percentage succeed, meaning most of the effort put toward suggestion boxes turns to dust.
4. Don’t Over Focus on Inward Operations
Your focus as a business should be on your customer. If you drift from that priority you may see trouble on the horizon. It’s important to evaluate the initiatives you have in the works — stop and ask yourself, “How does this create value for our customers?”
Successful innovation management comes from valuable idea generation, and your customers often define what is valuable for your organization. As much as you value your internal initiatives, they may be destined for the cutting room floor if you can’t redirect that value outwardly.
If you’re not sure what your customer wants or their pain points, it may be time to gather more data about your market. Send out feelers on social media, request customer surveys or feedback, conduct informational interviews, and analyze your competition. Your and your team’s time is valuable. Make sure you’re focused on the right things.
5. Don’t Neglect Input or Output Metrics
There are two ways to translate innovation management into quantifiable data: Input metrics (such as investments) and output metrics (such as results). It takes time for product launches to penetrate the marketplace and generate waves. Your profit margins will likely be lower initially, so it will make more sense to emphasize input over output metrics at the start. As long as your bottom line stays balanced, you can afford to experiment at this stage.
That said, it’s necessary to crunch numbers for both input and output metrics. If you measure too much of one or the other, your results will be unbalanced, and you won’t have a clear view of the picture. There’s, of course, some preference given toward output metrics, but if it costs too much to get there, it might not be sustainable in the long term.
You have a finite set of resources you can allot to any given task as an organization. What activities have you put forth toward your business initiatives? How much money are you spending? How much time are you using?
- Your R&D costs as a percentage of sales revenue
- How many innovation initiatives are currently running
- Whether or not more ideas are coming down the pipeline
- Percentage of employees tasked with R&D
These are your input metrics. These metrics are an excellent way to measure innovation management tasks precisely because you can monitor them in real-time and adapt per your results.
Now, your output metrics lie at the opposite end of the spectrum, where we find the “R” in “ROI” — your return. You want to know exactly what you’re getting back for the resources you’ve invested.
Examples of output metrics for innovation management include things like:
- How many new products you’ve launched over a period of time
- Revenue made from new products or services that came through this process
- Your actual vs. targeted breakeven time for the projects you’ve worked on
There’s a danger here of overemphasizing output metrics at the expense of inputs. It’s entirely possible to win the battle but lose the war if you don’t have the resources left for the next great challenge.
New ideas that actively disrupt the marketplace can take a while to turn a profit on your end. If you focus too much on the results, you can easily lose sight of the big picture. Learn to treat the process of innovation as another kind of work, complete with its own challenges and hurdles. Embracing the journey will maximize your chances of truly becoming a market disruptor in your field.
If you’re ready to implement a culture of innovation in your company, you will benefit from a transparent, streamlined idea management system. Ditch the suggestion box and give your employees a platform like Idea Pipeline, to submit their innovative ideas and connect with key decision-makers.
Start your free trial of Idea Pipeline to increase your team’s motivation and engagement, boost productivity, and foster innovation.