How to stimulate innovation

If there is one thing that every organization on this earth wants to do irrespective of the size/market/geography is to INNOVATE.

As part of the innovation drive, all the organizations set innovation goals to file X number of patents in a financial year and increase the goal marginally YoY. Revenue realization targets are also set from those innovative ideas. Organization goals are further translated into BU goals and each BU will be entrusted with responsibility of filing a specific number of patents. Goals are good to have as it indirectly communicates the purpose of the organization and priority of the organization. By setting innovation goals, organization drives the message that innovation is critical for the growth. Therefore it brings-in necessary process to capture innovations and deliver those innovations in their products. But the hard truth is that less than 1% of the organization contributes to Innovation. So the first step in the Innovation drive should be to stimulate employees to innovate.

In order to stimulate innovation, we should not do the mistake of persuading individual to innovate. We have to make every individual in an organization to realize/understand what is in it for them to innovate. In my personal experience I have seen most of the engineers desire to learn/accomplish something different/unique. But those genuine aspirations get lost because of lack of thought process on how to trigger the journey to accomplish something different/unique. Everyone desires to move from point A to point B, but what we often do not do is to provide a moment of pause to ponder upon three critical aspects
WHY– Why to accomplish
WHAT – What to accomplish
HOW – How to accomplish

Taking a moment to work on the What/How/Why circle will help every employee understand the purpose of reaching point B and eventually trigger clarity on how to start the journey of reaching point B. Undoubtedly there might be varying purposes, however each of those purposes somewhere deep down would be either directly or indirectly tied to innovation. Further such a heterogeneity of purposes will lead to innovation in areas across product development, product design, business, processes etc.

Once we are done with the 1st of stimulating innovation, next step is to focus on eliminating the barriers of innovation. The two innovation barriers that I have indicated below need not be exhaustive.

  • Psychological barriers – Common misconception that Innovation is BIG and COMPLEX creates a mental barriers among many to innovate
  • Lack of solution thinking – Engineers work in silos and hence they lack the knowledge of how the product is used by end customers.

Let me talk in detail about each of the barriers of innovation in subsequent blogs. Stimulation and elimination are not the only requirements for successful innovation, there is another major ingredient called environment that is conducive to innovation. An environment that encourages employees to focus on innovation in addition to their regular day-to-day tasks and that eliminates fear of failure among employees. We can go ahead and talk about innovation environment in detail, for now let us put aside that topic for a future blog article.

How to push collaborative innovation

During IPMA event, I had a chance to interact with Head of Product Management, Wipro and I asked him how service organization could enforce collaborative innovation. He was quick to point out a top-down approach.

Top-down approach is that every BU by default would have certain sales target and he wants to strictly enforce that certain percentage of the revenues had to come from either new solutions/new markets. Even if the overallsales target is achieved and X% of sales revenue is not contributed by either new solutions/new markets then the target is to be missed. Such approach will ensure that the BU heads will persuaded to push for collaborative innovation and they will bring in required process to capture the value arrived out of collaborative innovation. However from the conversation, I could not sense that there is no deliberate attempt to spur the collaborative innovation from bottom-up.

I sincerely feel that there should be some equal focus on the bottom-up approach too for the success of collaborative innovation. As stated in previous blog article, engineers are more focused on their individual component that they often fail to relate their component with every other component in the entire end-to-end solution. We have to facilitate them to think how their components work in relation to other component in the overall solution. Such thinking is also called as Systems thinking and it will help foster a mental map that will provide a holistic view of how each component is related to the entire system or rather solution in our case. System thinking will act as stimulus for collaborative innovation as the engineers would have the urge to understand every component in relation to every other component in the system. But the biggest challenge is to inculcate systems thinking in the minds of engineers.