Innovation. Innovation has become a buzz word of today’s business. Google search results say that the word “innovation” has been used more than half a billion times on sources available on the Internet. Everyone agrees that innovation is crucial for businesses’ improvements and growth. However, it is not easy to implement innovation in our daily business routines.
Innovation process usually goes through these phases:
Figure 1. Five stages of the innovation process
Stages of the Innovation process
First, we will generate list of ideas, problems and technologies that we deem interesting exploring. Then we will evaluate these ideas. We will try to prioritize them on different criteria. Ideas that we think are worth developing further will go into incubation phase. In this phase we will try to fine-tune the original idea into a valuable business project worth of deployment. And lastly, we will work with the idea and its development into a concrete product, service or solution.
Unfortunately, no matter how great and fine-tuned our innovation process is, a method is however not a guarantee for innovation. As always, people and their skills and business culture do play an important role.
Almost a decade ago but equally relevant today, Harvard Business Review discussed five characteristics important for innovation at a level of an entrepreneurial individual. (The innovator’s DNA, Clayton M. Christensen, 2009) I would say these also apply for organizations, but would add diversity to the group. So, five characteristics I believe are important in innovation process would be:
Figure 2. 5 elements of the innovation process
Five elements of the Innovation process
Bringing different people together triggers different associations and fresh inputs. Let’s say we want to set up a group of people to have a look at an issue. There is a much greater chance that a group of people from different age groups, or from different cultural, religious, or educational background, will come up with many different associations, compared to if we set a group of people who are of the same sex, age, educational or religious, cultural background and are cheering for the same sports team. Our background also triggers our associations. The more diverse our group is, the more diverse will be our connotations and impressions.
Diversity in the team is closely connected to networking; being able to network and create social connections with other people, and especially with people who are different from us. Part of networking is being able to share our thoughts with people around us, listen to their feedback and acknowledge differences. At the end, we develop and improve our ideas only by discussing them with other people, with people to whom we allow to challenge our thinking.
By observing the environment around us we discover things and we learn about the environment. We know that it was the observing of the eclipse of the moon that lead Aristotle to conclude that the Earth must be round. Questioning is another crucial element of the innovation process. One cannot expect any innovative ideas if one is not able to challenge common wisdom, asking questions why, and why not. If we are brave enough, we then challenge our surroundings and its status quo. By concluding that the Earth is round, Aristotle questioned the belief that the Earth is flat. Today Elon Musk is showing us that despite the belief that oil will be main car fuel, the electricity can successfully compete and disturb the old-fashioned car industry. But how much innovation will come out if employees are afraid to ask questions? And we both know that such teams and organizations exist. And lastly, experimenting. To experiment one more dare even more. When we experiment, we are curious to see what we will happen if we change something; if we change a variable or two, what will happen then?
Will we succeed, or will we fail? Experimenting is hence a very risky behavior…
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