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Make Innovation Part of Your Routine

Mon, 05/16/2011 - 13:49 -- admin

We all know the regular diary entries.  Write monthly report.  Produce monthly numbers.  Set annual objectives.  Plan summer holiday.  Watch favourite TV program.  These tasks come around with regularity and frequency and become part of our routine.

The routine concept struck me while reviewing Jeffrey Philips’ and Paul Hobcraft’s Collaborative Innovation Reference Framework.  Do we make innovation routine?  Well, I suspect in many companies it doesn’t always fall into the same pattern.   Innovation is an output of a business.  Why wouldn’t we want to make it routine?

After all, innovation starts with creativity and we often hear that creative types can’t just produce on demand.  They are artists who work with their brains, not their hands; they need inspiration and the correct setting, right?

Well, let’s address the creativity objection up front.  Some of the most creative people in human history have been creative on demand – for example. the famous portrait painters received commissions and had to deliver a quality product on time to a budget.  Did Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci and Edison take time off from being creative?

There are other reasons why innovation isn’t always treated as “business as usual”.  We often think that innovation is special, a highly rewarding and noble activity.  It is, but this special treatment can get in the way of it becoming more effective.

Breakthrough and disruptive innovation is by definition outside of the routine, isn’t it?  Given that the success rate for disruptive innovation is much lower than that for incremental, implementing it isn’t business as usual, particularly if it is a step change for your company.  However searching for, screening and implementing breakthrough projects can be made routine.

Company wide reviews of innovation strategy, portfolio priorities and launch planning should be part of your annual corporate calendar.  On a business segment/division/brand level, regular creativity and idea generation sessions should be scheduled.  Finally, allocate annual objectives related to innovation, whether based on tangible output or successfully passing milestones.

I’m not arguing for a rigid military discipline that only allows creativity in, say, April.  Of course people should use their initiative and push ideas forward as and when they occur, but in addition to the regular sessions, not instead of them.  Innovation should be treated as a core part of the business that is as integral to growth and success as delivering this month’s numbers.

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