You will never find the time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.|
Idea Champions offers pragmatic tools and insights that enable innovation.|
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Written by Mitch Ditkoff, Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions.
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Culture of Innovation
1. The Need
If you are reading this, it is likely that your organization has identified the need to establish a more sustainable culture of innovation — one that recognizes that the ongoing generation of breakthrough ideas for new products and services is intimately affected by context and requires a company-wide commitment. Faced with the ongoing challenge of growing your business and maintaining its role as an industry leader, at least a few of your in-house visionaries and business leaders are committed to exploring ways of making innovation a day-to-day reality.
Clearly, there is no magic pill for accomplishing this noble goal. Advocating it is one thing. Making it happen is quite another. Long-standing ways will need to be challenged — as will collective assumptions, mindsets, silos and outdated ways of doing business. Clearly, the bar will need to be raised for trust, communication, teamwork, experimentation and the willingness to learn from mistakes. Counter-productive politics and territoriality will need to be addressed. People will need to enter into new kinds of dialogues and debates. But it can happen. Indeed, it must happen — that is, if you are serious about closing the gap between rhetoric and reality. And Idea Champions can help.
2. Defining Our Terms
- Culture: "The sum total of values, norms, assumptions, beliefs and ways of living built up by a group of people and transmitted from one generation to another."
- "The adoption of a new practice, process, or paradigm by a community — not just a new product or service.
- "Adapting, adjusting, or altering that which already exists for the purpose of adding value."
- Creativity: "To cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or would not exist via ordinary processes. Resulting from originality of thought."
- Organizational Roadblocks: "Barriers, obstacles or hindrances that limit or compromise the full expression of a company's ability to originate, develop and/or implement new, value-added ideas."
3. The Idea Champions Model
Although the challenge of helping organizations create a sustainable culture of innovation is a multi-dimensional one, our approach is simple. The key variable, as always, is in the execution. Our model has four components:
- Secure the Support of Senior Leadership: Create informed commitment, alignment & active sponsorship of positional/thought leaders.
- Rethink/ Reinvent Process: Change organizational structures and processes to enhance experimentation and risk-taking and to recognize and reward innovative breakthroughs.
- Build Individual Competencies: Improve innovation-readiness and creative thinking skills.
- Improve Teamwork: Increase cross-functional collaboration, knowledge sharing, and ideation.
4. Key Obstacles to Innovation
While it is overly simplistic to claim that all organizations are dealing with the same obstacles to innovation, the fact is: there are repeating themes and patterns that we have noticed during the past two decades — obstacles that will need to be addressed if you expect to establish a sustainable culture of innovation, i.e.
- Lack of a shared vision, purpose and/or strategy
- Innovation not articulated as a company-wide commitment
- Lack of ownership by Senior Leaders
- Constantly shifting priorities
- Short-term thinking
- Internal process focus rather than external customer focus
- Focus on successes of the past rather than the challenges of the future
- Unwillingness to change in the absence of a burning platform
- Politics — efforts to sustain the status quo to support entrenched interests
- Rewarding crisis management rather than crisis prevention
- Hierarchy — over-management and review of new ideas
- Under-funding of new ideas in the name of sustaining current efforts
- Reluctance to kill initiatives that are not succeeding, but have been funded and staffed
- Fear that criticizing current practices and commitments is a high-risk activity
- Workforce workloads (i.e. too much to do, not enough time)
- Risk aversion (i.e. punishment for "failure")
- Inelegant systems and processes
- Addiction to left-brained, analytical thinking ("data is God")
- Absence of user-friendly idea management processes
- Unwillingness to acknowledge and learn from past "failures"
- Inadequate understanding of customers
- Innovation not part of the performance review process
- Lack of skillful brainstorm facilitation
- Lack of "spec time" to develop new ideas and opportunities
- Inadequate "innovation coaching"
- No creative thinking training
- No reward and recognition programs
- "Innovation" relegated to R&D
5. Sequence and Staging of Our Intervention
- Needs Assessment: Our process for determining the current reality of your organization's culture of innovation depends on the accuracy of your current data. If you have already established a baseline, via surveys, we will conduct a small number of group interviews with a cross-section of employees to elaborate on current findings. If you do not have a baseline, we recommend that a culture of innovation audit precede the group interviews.
- Innovation at Work: A rigorous 1- 2 day think tank and planning session that builds on the results of the Needs Assessment process. We will work with a representative sampling of Senior Leaders and other key players to further clarify the current state, develop a vision of success, and identify and prioritize existing obstacles compromising your organization's culture of innovation. Based on this assessment, the group will reach agreement on a high level plan for closing the gaps between the current state and the vision.
- Senior Team Alignment/Sponsorship Session: Here's where your organization's Senior Leaders step up to the plate and declare their commitment to establish a company-wide culture of innovation. After presenting the results of the Needs Assessment process and Innovation at Work planning session, we will work with Senior Leaders to help them understand: 1) the process going forward; 2) their role(s) in establishing a sustainable culture of innovation; 3) ways in which Idea Champions can be a resource to the senior team.
- Culture of Innovation Design Team Meetings: To increase the likelihood that the Idea Champions intervention is as impactful as possible, we will work closely with a team of 4 — 7 people who, in effect, partner with us to refine the design and execution of our innovation-sparking efforts. In addition to ensuring that our interventions have traction, we will also be tooling up this lead user design team to play the ongoing role of "innovation champions" throughout the organization.
- Communication of Vision/Strategy: In order for your workforce to get behind any kind of innovation initiative, it is essential that everyone understands and buys into the company's long-term vision and strategy. Believing that all employees are well-versed and aligned with company values, vision and strategy is a key prerequisite for manager to trust their employees to take new initiatives without extensive review. If your organization's vision, values and strategy are clearly articulated and understood throughout the organization, there will be little for us to do at this stage of the process. If, on the other hand, they are not clearly articulated or understood, we will need to work with the Design Team to come up with the simplest way of getting this done.
- Launch of integrated, culture of innovation interventions:
While we cannot anticipate what we will learn from the data-gathering and planning phases, we do have a number of interventions that have been useful in past. These include:
- Workshops with Senior Leaders in which purpose, vision, values and business strategy are clarified
- Organization and Process redesign sessions to identify and improve organizational structures and processes that currently inhibit innovation.
- Innovation-sparking and idea generating sessions (and software)
- Ingenious Leadership (helping leaders become innovation allies)
- Creative Dissonance Sessions (leveraging diversity, conflict & debate)
- Banking on Innovation (creative thinking training)
- High Velocity Brainstorming (customized ideation sessions)
- Mind Your Customer (intra-company brainstorming sessions)
- Executive Coaching (one-on-one tutorials)
- Finding the "Oh" in Project Management (PM for innovators)
- Conducting Genius (brainstorm certification training)
- Increasing IntraNetwork (innovation-sparking content for intranets)
- Free the Genie (creative thinking cards)
- Ingenuity Bank (idea management, enterprise-wide software)
- Quarterly Recognition Events: (reward & award ceremonies)