As a Facilitator of Design Sprints and hands-on coach on Innovation Projects I have a unique front-row seat on some of the coolest and ground-breaking innovations initiated by our teams and our clients. Mind-boggling AR apps to recognize counterfeit money, AI helping to safe harbour refugees, bots flawlessly answering thousands of complex emails for hotels, self folding helmets and working solutions to fight air pollution, to name a few.
I had the honour of guiding dozens of teams through the process of the Design Sprint and the required change that comes with it. Being in the same room with a team for 5 consecutive days gives me a unique insight allowing me to look for strengths, abilities, weak spots, alliances, talents, effectiveness, energy levels, leadership and group dynamics.
The hardest thing
Nearly 20 years of experience on the forefront of new digital innovations working with start-ups and corporate enterprises and public sector agencies has taught me a personal top 8 for successful innovation strategies.
It always requires change. And that is the hardest thing. Everybody wants change, nobody wants to change.... I must say I have learned this the hard way, failing more times then I can count. The list is not a magic cookbook for success, but it has proven time and again to ramp up the odds for success.
Dabscheck and Churchill
“Tell me everything about innovation,” asked a harried Fortune 500 vice president. Before I could reply he interjected, “But I don’t have much time, perhaps you have a one-pager?”
Well, no. Innovation is difficult, messy and, in contrast with our 140 character-limit world, requires sustained attention. To borrow from Winston Churchill’s description of Russia, it is a sweeping domain, wrapped in complex uncertainty, inside an ever-expanding bubble of superficial hype.
Skipping serious learning is the equivalent of a new boat owner standing on the shore, jealously watching other vessels glide over the water, and asking, “Seems like a lot of effort to get our sail up, do we really need it?” Fortunately, for those embarking on an innovation journey there are many lighthouses of scholarship and intellectual rigor to guide us.”
Mr. Dabscheck is very right. Please bare this in mind as you set sail for your innovative journey. Innovation requires constant work.
Top 8 of innovation tips
My Top 8 of innovation tips was groomed over the years in close collaboration with Jeroen Soeterbroek and Maarten Reijersberg and Marieke Kraak. As with most great lists and processes, the individual parts are not necessarily original, it is the "greatest hits" compilation that makes it rock.
1. Get everybody in
First of all, invite everybody in your company - top to bottom - to the table of innovation. Successful innovation requires everybody to have a seat at the table, to involve everybody in the process, to give them a clear long term objective, to be a strong believer yourself, to constantly communicate and to explain how everybody can benefit from the change. Most of all: Innovation = perseverance + determination
2. Time and rhythm
Innovating takes time. So does change. Allow for at least a year for an effective change to a new innovative company structure. Get into a rhythm. Setting 5 goals (milestones) per quarter. Do this for the company and translate it to 5 goals for each department (have the department do it!) and then translate it to 5 goals for each individual (have them do it!). Keep pace of the innovation rhythm, using voting days, KPI's, participation levels and alike. Also, make sure your employees can spend between 10 and 20% of their time on innovative projects (thank you, Google). It is no use advocating innovative thinking if you don’t allow your team to spend time on it.
Allow yourself and your team to fail. Failure is a key ingredient to succeeding.
Have fun! Celebrate successes and have fun about your failures! Get an energetic vibe going on the workspace!
5. Ask questions
Asking questions (and allowing for questions to be asked!) and listening gets you further than “announcing” solutions. Bear in mind three ever critical questions when innovating:
1. How could our underlying assets be used differently?
2. Who in our supply chain is doing an awful job and could we do it better by developing that business?
3. What else do our customers need?
Be responsive to change. Not only does constant innovation require you to reinvent yourself every three years; it requires you to constantly change. Companies that used to be your customer are now your competitor and vice versa. When situations change you need to be responsive to that change. So, when you are on top of your game, change your game.
True innovation needs to be lived and believed. Remember that innovative projects require multidisciplinary teams, instead of hierarchy. Do not “push” the managements’ thoughts on innovation, but allow for everybody to contribute and evaluate. Allow for your teams to foster new ideas and innovations. As a business leader, it is your responsibility to create a climate where innovative, sustainable and profitable ideas are facilitated.
8. External challenger
Changing to an innovative company requires great leadership. The pitfall is to have one or two blind spots that might slow down or diminish all your efforts. The trick is to get an external advisor on board to challenge the leadership team. Not so much on innovation, but more so on the change required to innovate!
And, time! See, 6 minutes. I hope these 6 minutes will fast forward you lightyears into your innovative future.