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Designing a successful innovation culture: The Do’s and Don’ts’


Innovation is something every business has been seeking right from the outset of the industrial revolution. It has come to the fore in the last two decades and not all of them are a success. Mark Payne, in his book on How to kill a Unicorn, mentioned that around 90 percent of groundbreaking projects either fail in the market or just never see the light of the day. Why innovation as a practice does not succeed to take-off in spite of the huge investments and the best intentions?

There is often a multitude of reasons for such failures which vary from the absence of any value proposition in the product innovation to an imprecise path from the product development to the marketplace. More often than not it is the lack of efficient implementation of skills to build a concept that can leave your end-customer dissatisfied, leading to customer churn.

Innovation programs in organizations are successful in making an impact when they have the right approach and are perceived favorably by the employees—their biggest stakeholders. It is important to list down the do’s and don’ts, before going about building an innovation culture.

In my view, the building blocks for innovation are as follows:

Make innovation a collaborative effort

First and the foremost, organizations need to set the objectives straight across teams. It is critical to communicate the value that the innovation will create for the end-customer and for the business in return. Failures are the first step to success but companies often shy away from accepting these as intrinsic to innovation. Companies need to ensure that they put genuine failures on an equal pedestal as successes with an intention to create better value. So, why not celebrate and call it a spectacular failure?

Keeping innovation cross- functional is also important, as it has a perpetual bearing on the overall success. For a customer-relevant innovation, it is pertinent for organizations to allow the best of its people, with varied skills, to come together--right from product development engineers to those bringing specialization in front-line support, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and client training. The idea should never be left to the one who conceived it but should permeate horizontally and vertically across the organization. Technology, sometimes, has limitations and involving other teams is beneficial for the growth of the idea.

Organizations should look for ways to encourage and elevate these efforts by the employees. What better way than rewarding and recognizing the promising ideas? They should not only encourage their people to come up with such ideas but also invest in, develop and capitalize on these ideas to enrich their overall product portfolio. Such recognition can further foster the culture of innovation. In this competitive era, we often hear about design thinking being an essential ingredient to build a strategy for innovation. Design-led companies such as Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM, Nike, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool have outperformed the S&P 500 over the past 10 years by an extraordinary 219%, according to an assessment by the Design Management Institute few years earlier. Investing in design thinking, a discipline that draws upon logic and systematic reasoning, to create what is technologically feasible can help businesses convert an idea into customer value and potential market opportunity.

Having talked so much about what we can do to propel innovation, there should also be enough focus on those factors that can bring all these efforts to a grinding halt, preventing companies from growth.

Stay away from menace

Now, this is for all those who think innovation is an ongoing process. It's not, and time we should accept. Art is associated with the science of innovation, and therefore its outcome cannot be tied down by processes. It is akin to asking an artist how many paintings he will come up with in a year. Setting expectations is well-suited only for laid out processes. So, we need to stop calling innovation a process. The other factor that can pull the plug on your innovation is a lack of collaboration. A recent survey conducted by co-working magazine, Deskmag, found that people who work in a team are more creative, productive and confident. A total of 71% of those questioned said they were more creative; 62% reported that their standard of work improved significantly and 90% said they felt more confident when co-working. We have seen employees working in silos for ages now. But, it is for the human resource teams to motivate each and every employee to partake innovation.

A business can make headway into its market by having the cognizance that it requires imagination and creativity along with a deep understanding of its customer needs. The key to building such an organization begins with its ability to create an ecosystem for innovation to prosper. And, how do you do that? Facilitate fertile platforms for individuals across the organization to come together and learn from each other’s diverse experience thus aiding the evolution of novel and incremental ideas.