Don’t segregate innovation: 3 ways to make it work

If you walked into a room full of CEOs and asked them to name the best thing about their business, you would bet your house on hearing the word ‘innovation’ several times.

Who wouldn’t want to be an innovator – leading the way and holding a torch for others to follow? It’s easier said than done, of course.

Innovation won’t just happen by itself, so some organisations create teams to drive it. These specialists should then parachute into different departments, implement change and move on to another area.

Triple trouble

While this approach is well-meaning, it has three fundamental problems when put into practice: lack of time, understanding and solidarity.

Nearly every organisation comes under great pressure to meet demands, hit targets and deliver projects on time.

>See also: Innovation in the enterprise: How can CIOs ensure its success?

When focuses are firmly fixed on that specific goal, the ones on the ground are not going to have the time to stop and think about how to change their working practices.

Even if they are allocated time to consider new working practices, inevitably minds will still be fixed on the end goal.

Also, does the innovation team properly understand the day-to-day roles and responsibilities of the people it is dictating change to? And the ‘business as usual’ crowd could grow hostile towards commands coming down from an ivory tower.

Hierarchies can become muddied, with people working alongside each other but reporting to different areas, which risks breeding tension and resentment. And with innovation officially becoming somebody else’s responsibility, people will be less likely to spend time thinking about ways to innovate.

While it is great to actively encourage innovation, making it a separate part of an organisation is counter-intuitive.

Businesses need to be aiming for holistic teams – poly-skilled ones that are able to manage themselves, consider strategies and innovate on their own.

Running this way, teams are likelier to come up with an innovation and make it stick because they will be able to juggle these with ‘business as usual’ demands.

Search for a hit

Innovative ideas need to start off small, so that if they do not work out, it will not have a devastating impact on the business.

The ones that do prove to have potential can then be explored further by dedicating just a couple of people to working on them for a small amount of time.

Only once it is proved to be an effective idea by this litmus test should the idea be expanded properly.

A trial and error approach needs to be taken, and as such, failure should not be treated as a bad thing.

Sure, it didn’t work out, but often the best ideas and learnings can come from things that haven’t initially worked out.

Take what the International Air Travel Association (IATA) has achieved in a highly regulated industry by encouraging innovation within one of its teams.

This airline trade association removed constraints around some of its teams, enabling them to think about how services could be delivered more effectively.

IATA’s approach bore fruit when NDC, a new distribution capability allowing airlines to allocate seats in a better way, was created.

>See also: Rise of the Chief Innovation Officer – leading the way to transformational innovation

Traditionally, ‘business as usual’ workers chase a certain outcome, and strive to deliver it come hell or high water. As IATA realised, the focus needs to be shifted from this onto increasing value across the organisation.

Here are three key points an organisation must follow if it is to profit from innovation.

1. Create small, functional teams

Allow them to function organically because over-management can stop them dead in their tracks.

2. Make a goal-driven approach a thing of the past

Set KPIs for them to meet instead.

3. Allow leeway for the project to change direction as it progresses

Things will change as time goes on, and those working on the project need to feel confident that they can change the course if it will benefit the business in a different way.


Sourced from Brett Ansley, ThoughtWorks

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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