Embedding Innovation

I’ve been thinking about the opportunity for more organisations to:

a) encourage people to think “out of the box”

b) provide the right tools and process

c) apply innovative thinking to everyday work (not just specific projects)

Although there may be times where teams are set up and dedicate themselves to specific research or projects, there is a wonderful opportunity for organisations to tap into ideas – globally – using web2.0 collaboration tools and techniques. In addition, employees could be better encouraged to see themselves as innovative workers and apply creative thinking to everyday problems.

wisdom of the crowd in lego form
Image courtesy of Alice Bartlett

Irving Wladawsky-Berger summed it up nicely in a post on Innovation Teams 2.0 this week.

“In today’s fiercely competitive, global world, how can you afford to take your best people out of their jobs for a chunk of time to work on innovation, no matter how important that might be? Many line managers will be against such a program. They need their best people doing their jobs, running operations, dealing with clients, developing products. They cannot afford to let them go for weeks at a time. They may even argue that if they let their people participate in such programs for the good of the company, it could seriously jeopardize their ability to make the quarter.

I think that we can address these valid concerns in a kind of Team Challenge 2.0. I have become convinced that most highly talented people, – especially those destined for high management and technical positions, – are essentially ambidextrous when it comes to their work. They are able to do their day jobs with flying colors, while simultaneously participating in innovation activities, as part of virtual teams working with their equally talented colleagues across the business and around the world on complex, strategic company problems.

In general, the teams only need to meet physically two or three times for a few days – when the project is first formed, when presenting the final recommendations to top management, and perhaps once in between, – but the rest of the time they are collaborating over the Web, while continuing to do their normal job.

Where will overworked employees, already straining to keep some semblance of work-life balance, find the time for these additional innovation activities? This is another valid concern, but in fact, most talented people are already involved in multiple work related activities. They somehow make the time to participate in professional organizations, go to conferences, give speeches, and make a name for themselves in their industry and discipline, while continuing to be top performers in their day jobs. It is a big part of why they are on executive and technical resources tracks. It is why they get noticed, both within their own company as well as by competitors that will undoubtedly try to hire them.

Talented people are full of innovative ideas anyway. That is what makes them so good at their jobs. The key question is whether their companies will be smart enough to provide the right environment to help harvest all this creative energy. Will the company capture and take advantage of all this innovation by providing the right technologies, tools and platforms, as well as a disciplined, well organized innovation process, along the lines of X-Teams or Team Challenge?”

I was also reading about an interview with AG Lafley of Procter & Gamble in the New York Times (hat tip to Rick Singer)

Q. And yet only half of your product innovations succeed. Why isn’t the rate higher?
A. I don’t really want it to be. Human nature is such that, if we push our people to drive the batting average up, they’ll try to hit more safely, take a shorter swing, go for the singles instead of home runs. But we try to set milestones that innovations must meet at every step along the development process. As soon as they miss one, we allocate the resources to another product moving through the funnel. That’s another difference from the old days, when P.& G. let bad ideas go too far.

Do you think innovation should be part of everything we do? Should we always be considering (risky?) new approaches, techniques for improvement and even radical changes to existing solutions?