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Fostering innovation in your company

Hi all ! This time I’m back on a different topic : Innovation. Why you might ask ? While I was studying in Coimbra, I was frequently asked to accomplish tasks using any technology of my choice. The technology itself wouldn’t matter as much as the final result, or the reasons why I chosed technology A over technology B.

This open mindedness state, allowed not only for continuous innovation but also to develop my ability to evaluate technology solutions.  Being a strong supporter of continuous innovation, I would like to leave you with some suggestions on how you could foster innovation within your company.

Introduction

First of all, let’s clear our mind on the concept of innovation itself.  I will begin citing some alleged quotes from famous personalities :

There’s a way to do it better. Find it ! – Thomas Edison

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle , requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science. – Albert Einstein

Every act of creation is first an act of destruction – Pablo Picasso

So whatever your definition of innovation was, you can begin by trying to redefine it.

Types of innovation

There are four main types of innovation :

  • internal workflow innovation – the use of new tools to improve existing workflows. For example,if in your company you only run your tasks according to simple tasks checklists , you might benefit greatly from implementing a task/bug managing system like bugzilla or jira.
  • product innovation – the introduction of new features on an existing product ; improving the product look and feel ; improving the quality and speed of service.
  • market innovation this is the process of defining methodologies to forecast market evolution . This process also comprises the definition of strategies to understand customer preferences as well as strategies to expand to new markets.
  • company innovationthe global company innovation strategy. Comprises the innovation strategies to keep the company at forefront of industry, as well as, innovation strategies to reduce costs, respond to customers and  increase revenues.

What these four areas show, is that innovation can benefit greatly different areas in your company.  Next I’m going to suggest some innovation guidelines and three steps that will help you foster innovation in your company.

Innovation guidelines

At this point, you should have just understand what innovation is and where it can be applied. What to do next ? Well, you now need to realize that, whatever type of innovation you choose to embrace some guidelines should be followed. I don’t consider myself an innovation guru, so feel free to challenge some of these topics.

1- Don’t exclude anyone from the innovation process

It’s so easy to create a small R&D department inside a company and let them do the “innovation job”. Well, this shortsighted approach  takes as granted that only a small group of  “R&D” geniuses can have great ideas. Nothing could be more wrong. Everyone of your employees can have a great idea, so if you let them express themselves you can be greatly surprised.

2- Recognize a worker’s effort and motivate them to go beyond their knowledge scope

As a leader your job is to get things done. But, try to encourage your co-workers to come up with improvement ideas to your workflow process and be surprised ! Even if your company doesn’t reward innovative ideas, you can reward your co-workers with some perks like chocolates, tea, or some easier tasks, etc…

3- Align organizational objectives with worker’s personal objectives

This might seem like a mission impossible at first, but it isn’t. Most of the work could be done by the Human Resources department of your company. Instead of only choosing people by their previous work experience and academic background, the HR department should also take into account the workers personal objectives. For example, why hire someone as consultant who will need to be always learning new technologies if that person showed in the job interview no interest in that? Also if a group of workers asks for some work flexibility to practice some sport, why not consider it and try to negotiate with them ? Happy workers, will also be more creative workers!

4 – Learn lessons from previous projects. Encourage and reward error registration.

As obvious as this might seem it is much easier to go on blaming and firing people than to learn from their mistakes. Nobody fails on purpose ! An alleged quote from Thomas Edison stated : “An error is not a failure, but an opportunity to learn.”  I’m not defending that people should not be responsible for their own mistakes, but I’m defending that by sharing and rewarding error registration, lessons can be learn and future errors can be avoided. If you believe this policy is wrong just look at google whose mantra is “Fail fast, but fail smart!”

Innovation steps

Bearing the previous generic innovation guidelines in mind, I suggest you take the following 3 steps to foster innovation in your company :

  1. Define the relevant knowledge in the day-to-day workflow – Here what you can do is, to define knowledge areas for project development  as well as to define knowledge relevance on a per-project basis.
  2. Structure processes focused on capturing and spreading knowledge – Try starting by defining a clear model for knowledge capturing and create a system to evaluate the knowledge spreading process. An improved wiki system could be start. Wiki’s can be very flexible and cheap, so if you never used one before you can try MediaWiki. With a system like this in place , it’s now time to identify the right people to spread accumulated knowledge.
  3. Develop a motivation and rewards policy – Study what keeps your collaborators motivated and create a system that rewards knowledge sharing and innovation creation.

Conclusion

Throughout this article I’ve presented you with some concepts and ideas about innovation that I hope will help you change your mind about it. The four types of innovation show that innovation is not only restricted to the act of creation and that anyone in your company can be a creative a mind!

I’m going to finish this article by quoting  a man who to many is the innovation guru of our century :

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower – Steve Jobs

For further reading

[1] EUCAP ; How google runs innovation ; http://blog.eucap.com/funky-business/how_google_runs_its_innovation_1.html

[2] CONCEIÇÃO,Pedro ; O processo de inovação visto por dentro ;  http://in3.dem.ist.utl.pt/downloads/press/pub_2002_10_16.pdf

[3] Australian Government; Innovation in business ; http://www.innovation.gov.au/Innovation/Policy/Documents/NISChapter03.pdf

[4] JÚNIOR, José R. ; Os benefícios da inovação  http://www.boletimdoconhecimento.com.br/inova.pdf

[5] CHENEZON, Patrick ; Google une culture de l’innovation ; http://www.slideshare.net/chanezon/google-innovation-culture