Creativity, innovation and systematisation

What does it take to facilitate creativity and manage innovation in a corporate environment..?
As with any entity, to survive, a company needs to evolve, adapt to and influence its environment. That commonly translates into new or improved products, services, processes, branding.

To do this in a timely manner requires a certain number of projects in the pipeline to be outside the purely operational scope; projects and ideas about possible futures floating around the corporate corridors. And that’s not an easy feat, as these projects and ideas will generally have to swim against the strong currents of day-to-day tasks (Ops mindset).

Can’t do; too much work / That would blow the roadmap out of the water! / Interesting idea you just now came up with. So, how much will it cost, what’s the market size, what’s the financial projections for year 1, 2, 3? You don’t know! I’m not interested then...

So, what’s there to do?
Continuous and fruitful internal innovation comes from employees wanting to challenge the status quo, knowing what it would take to do so and having ways to do it. There needs to be a clear sense of where we are, where we want to be and why. Purpose, direction and means.

There are two main aspects to be mindful of.

  • Structural
    Systems for nurturing, capturing and developing ideas/knowledge
  • Behavioural
    Human interaction with/within these systems, organisational culture

Being aware, at any given time, of where most of one’s efforts are in relation to these two points of reference and being able to refocus these efforts if necessary, is an essential task for a successful implementation of an innovation program. Where to start will usually be dictated by your company’s innovation maturity level.

Innovation maturity level

So, what comes first?
There will rarely be a sustained and effective engagement of employees without a clear sense of purpose and direction coming from the top management. Fuzziness and opacity undermine motivation.
...first comes:

  • A well-defined action-oriented strategy
    ≠ "we want to be the first and best in all markets"
  • Corporate goals and objectives clearly communicated to all employees
    employees need to understand the reasoning behind some of the decisions

Then...a way to manage external and internal knowledge and insights.
As people learn and solve problems by association and rely on precomputed analyses stored for future references, prepopulating imaginations with a large scope of relevant information is an essential step in facilitating creativity.

Propagating digested information (insights) and inspiring materials throughout the organisation requires the use of a knowledge management platform (structural) as well as educating teams and individuals on the how and why doing so (behavioural).
The tool one picks is not as important as embedding the processes for gathering, organising and diffusing knowledge and insights in the day to day fiber of the organisation, so as to enrich and not disturb.

Only then should we think of ideas generation and capture. Any idea management project should succeed the definition of strategic intent as well as the implementation (even partial) of a knowledge and insights management program. As these will help frame, focus and evaluate the latter.

Assuming that now employees are starting to have a better understanding of what needs to be solved, explored, and why it matters, they will need a communal space to solve problems, together. The process used to manage ideas should provide clear steps to and an overview of ideas generation, improvement, selection and implementation. Just like for the knowledge platform, the idea management platform does not matter as much as the processes customised to the particular needs of the organisation. The key thing here is transparency.

Initially all of this seems like a set of dull and static tools and processes. Inspiring and involving the employees will require organising regular events, appropriately timed. It might be best to have a mix of activities varying in length, scope and type of participants, from a half-day innovation workshop to a two-day hackathon to a eight-week idea tournament.
Each event will have a well-defined topic, clear rules and all participants should have easy access to what is happening.

Creating an initial buzz with a fancy campaign and managing the momentum with incentives and rewards linked to the overall appraisal program is fine, but ultimately the focus should be on facilitating intrinsic motivation so the innovation program should be promoted, structured and run with an emphasis on working & learning together, things worth doing and autonomy & variety.

Frederic Marc