Getting the innovation process right

Business, Partner Content, Technology | Thu 25 Jan | Author – Business & Finance

Creativity can be ephemeral, but the right framework and structure can significantly enhance your innovation process.

PARTNER CONTENT IN ASSOCIATION WITH eir

Innovation is all about fresh ideas, but sometimes we think of this in terms of the muse striking when least expected, that sudden ‘Eureka!’ moment. In actual fact, innovation is a necessity to stay afloat and stay ahead in the modern business world and putting a formal structure around it can greatly enhance the process.

In a recent article for Harvard Business Review, authors Stanford Professor Steve Blank and retired US Army Colonel Pete Newell posit that, “Done right, innovation requires a rigorous process. It starts by generating ideas, but the hard work is in prioritizing, categorizing, gathering data, testing and refactoring.”

Innovation requires not only creativity, but also a company culture that is open and dynamic, fosters the exchange of information and tests and iterates new ideas to perfect them.

THE CASE FOR INNOVATION

On a global scale, the World Bank has put together an Innovation Policy Platform (IPP) which gathers a wealth of information on design, implementation, and evaluation of innovation policies across companies, entrepreneurship and public policy. The existence of such a resource recognises the fact that innovation plays such a vital role in the economy and society by contributing to growth and jobs and helping address social and environmental challenges.

To illustrate the urgency of the need for innovation, Andy O’Kelly, Chief Architect at eir business, is fond of a quote by American avant-garde composer John Cage: “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”

“That’s true for a lot of businesses these days,” says Andy. “ If you don’t innovate it’s a strong possibility that your competitors are going to innovate faster than you and you’ll be out of the game.”

PUTTING POLICY IN PLACE

Does your business require an innovation policy? Putting a formal policy in place gives you a framework to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of any initiatives, in order to justify allocating or diverting funds towards innovations.

A formal policy can also be a valuable roadmap to include, for instance, the requirement to survey customer needs, or guidelines around which stakeholders should be consulted, and which innovations or problem areas require prioritisation.

OUT OF THE ECHO CHAMBER

Putting together a team to work on innovation, it is important to gather a diverse group. Most importantly, this team should not consist solely of engineers – they may be the ones who eventually solve the problem, but they may be too far in the woods to see the trees. A good team will include strategists, business minds and tech minds, perhaps even customers who can give insight on problems or needs.

“Our customers are fantastic sources of innovation,” reveals Andy O’Kelly. “They tell us what they need, they tell us what they’re struggling with and how they would like to change. That triggers lots of ideas for us, and ultimately we bring it through then to the marketplace.”

Hackathon events are successful for the very reason that they bring together diverse skill sets and leverage them in a creative problem-solving exercise.

“When you get lots of different voices in a room and set them a challenge it can be a really useful event for getting people’s ideas flowing, especially when you take it out of the usual business setting,” says Andy.

GETTING BUY-IN

Prioritising and choosing which innovations to pursue can be a highly political process. A long-game approach, rather than a quick fix, requires bravery, and crucially, more investment of funds. There may be a clear business case for a problem-solving innovation, yet a looser or more nebulous business case for a truly new idea. However, the gamble may pay off if something truly game-changing is created. At this stage some proof of concept testing may be required before moving forward with a plan. This can work through concerns around the technology and clarify the usefulness of the idea.

DELIVERING ON INNOVATION

An oft-cited rule of innovation is, for it to be deemed a success, it must be delivered. Great ideas must be put into action. “You absolutely have to deliver and implement it. It’s not just an idea, it’s an idea that’s brought to fruition and gives you that sustainable advantage,” underlines seasoned innovator Andy O’Kelly.

NOT JUST A ONCE OFF

It’s not enough to have a bout of innovation once and be done with it. The rate of change in technology is exponential and those who don’t keep moving will very quickly get left behind. Therefore, building an innovation process will pay off in the long run as you repeatedly go through not only the review of pain points, problems, areas for improvement, but also the creative thought process.

As Brian Martin, Head of Strategy and Planning with eir business, says, “Strategy and planning is very important to innovation, and conversely, innovation is very important to strategy and planning, because it’s all about competing in the marketplace and where your resources are best used in order to do that.”

Brian recommends using models and frameworks to structure thinking around innovation, in particular The Doblin Model which suggests ten distinct areas – be that product (such as eir’s Voice over WiFi innovation) or engagement (customer service) – across three categories in which innovative ideas can be explored.

While it may seem counterintuitive, structured stimuli really help to trigger creativity around potential areas of innovation and provide a powerful catalyst for teams to come up with wide-ranging ideas to fuel the innovative process.

Andy O’Kelly is Chief Architect at eir business.

Brian Martin is Head of Strategy and Planning at eir business.