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The Habits To Make Innovation More Rewarding

While Innovation can occur in R&D, IT, a Business Unit, or an Innovation Center – it’s better when done continuously and collaboratively across teams, functions, and networks
… and being integral to the organization’s culture with a progressive way of thinking
– where people are in the habit of exploring to make things better

Innovating faster and better remains a high priority for organizations determined to meaningfully improve outcomes from innovation – on an ongoing basis. To understand why this is a challenge, research shows a lack of innovation culture is frequently a stumbling block as noted is a recent Conference Board C-Suite Challenge report.   More alarmingly, a McKinsey survey revealed that only 21 % of Executives believe they have the expertise, resources and commitment to pursue new growth areas successfully. To address this concern, innovation needs to be an intrinsic element of a company’s corporate culture to have a more entrepreneurial environment.  This is important to be a future ready organization that drives change and not a victim of change.

Nurturing an Innovation Mindset

To increase the rewards from business innovation, many organizations have an open innovation process together with their customers and partners. But opening the door to innovation processes is not enough. It is the engagement that counts. This starts by changing the way, how and when we think about innovation.  To truly create a culture of innovation, thinking about innovation should become a habit, being part of your personal mindset – not an exception or singular event.  Embedding innovation in a company’s set of corporate values and creating a framework for innovation is the first and easiest step. The second, and often harder part, is creating an innovation mindset that turns thinking about innovation into a habit.

Here are three tips to nurture this type of thinking and make it part of who you are –

1.  Encourage Innovation by Making Time for Thinking and Exploring

“ Innovators have an inclination and a capacity to examine what others often leave unexamined ” according to Gary Hamel and Nancy Tennant. The surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, for example, was fascinated by the subconscious. He spent time experiencing the state between sleeping and waking in diverse ways.  One of his most known paintings resulting from this period is ‘ The Persistence of Memory ’, a striking dreamlike landscape with melting clocks. For corporate innovation, this painting captures a conundrum – while we need innovation for quick adaptation, we need time to innovate. To solve this challenge, people need the freedom and encouragement to explore ideas –  at work or wherever. Daily routines need to incorporate time to drive innovation, and not distract from it.  You don’t have to be the next Salvador Dali or Thomas Edison to innovate. An example of this is for companies to develop the innovation skills of their people by teaching them to explore and how to challenge invisible orthodoxies, and pursue contrarian beliefs, harness underappreciated trends, and address unarticulated needs. The key is to “normalize” innovation in the brain and turn innovative thinking into a habit.  To help people to be part of driving the evolution of the company’s products, services, and corporate initiatives,  examples of this are –

  • A theme day –  ie:  “ Explore Thursday “  or “ Focus Friday “ –  so people have time for learning, thinking, and pursuing ideas
  • Encouraging their people to allocate 20 % of their time for opportunities and personal interests
  • Launching an “ Entrepreneur / Intrapreneur  Program “ to give employees the space and time to develop new business ideas from concept to market readiness
2.  Tap into Collective Knowledge to have more Options to Innovate for Impact

Most innovations are iterative. They build onto existing knowledge and methodologies. For example, James Dyson did not invent the vacuum cleaner. He perfected the vacuum cleaner category with clever engineering and design. He continued to build a strong household brand by re-engineering related products such as fans and hair dryers.  Knowledge, ambitious objectives, and being very determined  – are key elements that determines how fast a company can innovate, according to Professor Allan Afuah’s framework of innovation. Companies can accelerate innovation with internal crowdsourcing, by tapping into the collective knowledge and skills of their employees.  Just like Airbnb did during the pandemic. When the vacation rental marketplace was hit by travel restrictions, the company identified a recovery path by enlisting the help of its employees. The company shifted its business for the work-from-home market segment and by offering virtual experiences to individuals and families who were looking to escape crowded metropolitan areas while continuing their work and schooling remotely.

3.  Encourage people to learn new things with permission to fail / un-learn old things / re-wire

While curiosity may have killed the cat, it contributed to our survival !  This plus learning fast, sparks ideas – which are the seeds of innovation. It’s part of an innovation mindset.  But not every idea leads to an innovation. CB Insights research shows that 70 % of startup tech companies fail. A top reason for failure is the lack of market need, including insufficient market research and understanding. Because of this, “Fail fast and share your learnings“ has become a start-up mantra. An example of this is James Dyson where he produced + 5,000 prototypes to create a new generation of vacuum cleaners !  This requires a belief in one-self, learning, persistence, and not being discouraged by setbacks.  In contrast in enterprises, people typically perceive failure as a stigma or it could reduce their career opportunities.  To encourage curiosity and innovation there is a need to provide a safe space for experimentation where people can “learn” and “unlearn”.  This is also important to recognize people need time, patience, and capital to explore their ideas individually and collectively. At the same time, there is also an urgency to show what a team has learned about a specific problem or opportunity. This can be achieved by having regular learning review sessions where every couple of weeks people provide updates and use these forums to get feedback from others.  This approach gives people the support they need and helps them to overcome obstacles.  In his book Thinking Fast And Slow Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman describes, for example, how behavior is determined by two systems in our mind – the conscious and the automatic – and how these two systems fight over who’s in charge. This conflict between the two systems determines how we act and behave. It is the automatic behavior that we need to change and create new pathways to make innovation a routine.  To help make this change in thinking and mindset is why it’s important to regularly collaborate and educate yourself about how to innovate for impact.

Summary  –  Habits Lead to Innovation Competency and Success

According to McKinsey, business innovation and transformation initiatives are five times more likely to be successful when decision makers have a vision and can model the changes.  To facilitate making innovation more rewarding, regularly – share insights with others who are knowledgeable with relevant personal or professional experiences, encourage thought development, read extensively, publish insightful material, develop insights on human behavior and competencies in effecting change in enterprises, have strong look ahead skills, set meaningful goals, etc.  There are many benefits of having an innovation mindset by being in the habit of – showing interest in others and new things, asking good questions, exchanging observations and insights, wanting to make things better, etc.  In addition, it’s very important to have the ability to learn fast, the requisite curiosity and thinking to recognize opportunity and create new value, different perspectives, etc. – be part of who you are.  Being good at this delivers significant benefits with the organization able to more quickly identify and unlock the value to make good on opportunities through Business Innovation and digital transformation with the creation of new products and services, additional revenue streams, a better bottom line,  improved operations and customer experiences, etc. Plus, there is the opportunity to imagine and shape the future to become a more valuable business with greater relevance and additional opportunities.  As well, there are significant personal and professional rewards by developing these competencies.  To make it happen, let’s be more open to possibilities, be more opportunistic and entrepreneurial, be better at asking questions, understand the changing nature of risk, and be willing to try new things.

Nov 18, 2021   by  Juergen Mueller / CAIL Innovation commentary                905-940-9000