How to come to continuous innovations

Innovation, agility, resilience, these are the words you hear a lot in many organizations. I see quite some people that underline the need for these in their organization too. The necessity to deliver new products and services, improve operations and/or serve new markets. How do you cope with these in an exponential changing world?

Status quo

Most important is that you spot opportunities, create value for others and inspire and activate others to help you to make this value come true. Quite some organizations don't have the ability to do this anymore. After years of living a life improving the operational excellence or living the status quo, people don't have the ability to come up with creative new solutions that really makes the difference. They reached the stadium of terminal seriousness.

Startups and incubators

Quite some corporations and other large organizations feel that they are challenged by startups, that conquer small pieces of the market. As the successful ones grow into the scale-up phase, they start to take larger chunks of the customers wallet. Over the last years a lot of these large organizations started to work together with some of these startups. Facilitating them with office space, hard- and software, coaching and financial funding, thriving to increase the speed of the innovation process and getting hold of new propositions. This approach might deliver some new short-term turnover, the disadvantage is that you don't change the way your organisation acts as a whole, and won't become more adaptive.

It’s not about the innovations, it’s about the innovators

Culture of innovation

Most important is that you change the undercurrent in your organization. It's the culture of innovation, where an entrepreneurial mindset activates colleagues throughout the organization. Starting with the innovators and early adopters, spreading towards the mass market of the staff. Like the Dutch Ministry of Defence does with the Innovationcoaches. A growing number of selected personnel participates in this program, growing like a virus, building on a mindset that stimulates innovation. By doing this, working on innovations that add value for all different kind of challenges pays off. Like the example in this Dutch video.

Via sport for all to top athletes

So it's important that everybody in the organization can contribute. However, like in many areas, some are even better at it than others. But how do you pinpoint them? It's not that you will find them all at the same department. They can be everywhere, and have most likely different kind of backgrounds like knowledge, age, gender, profession or skills. A great possibility to scout these innovation-champions is to organise an experience-event like "sports for all". Give everyone the opportunity to participate, in a serious game of innovation, so you can see who has the talents to become a top athlete. Train these athletes and challenge them to come up with new innovations and spreading the way they work like a virus. Like RAI Amsterdam did at The Event Industry Hackathon as you see below. The combination of both groups in a social safe environment challenges them to challenge the status quo. Cause that's where you will find those new insights and opportunities to add value to your customers.

How do we realise a culture of innovation?

Over the last years many organizations have focused on operational excellence. As market circumstances change rapidly through different reasons, like technological, social, ecological and political. In this era organizations have to adapt and adopt a different mindset. The mindset of an entrepreneur that spots opportunities, transforms them into value for others and inspire and activate others to realise this value. By doing so, the organization will stay relevant to end-users and will never be out of business.

Focus should shift from short term to long term, while finding a new balance between business factors and human factors. The following model shows this shift:

Culture of Innovation

This model shows that there should be a balance in the development. What if this balance is not present?

Too much business focus

Organizations that focus on the business, i.e. on developing innovative concepts like new products and services, without keeping human factors in mind, will be at risk to loose these innovations. As the organization does not embrace the innovation (not invented here) as a whole, the possibility increases that the innovation will be carved out. Those who are involved in the innovation will follow the innovation, leaving the organization behind without utilizing the investment.

It’s not about the innovations, it’s about the innovators!

Too much human focus

So focusing on innovations will not bring you towards harvesting the new opportunities. How about having the focus on the development of the mindset and abilities of our staff?

Organizations that focus on the human factors, like training and experiences, without giving space to developing innovative solutions, will be at risk to loose these innovators. They will get disappointed and disillusioned, looking for new opportunities and find their way out of the organization. In this case too, investments done will not benefit the organization.

How to keep the balance

Successful organizations find a balance between business and human focus. In this development they facilitate different steps to be taking, one time with a focus on training and next on developing innovative solutions. During this innovation expedition, getting more people in the organization involved and connected is key to work towards this entrepreneurial mindset. It is likely that you start with the innovators and early adapters, moving towards the early majority next. This asks for strong leadership from senior management, giving space, stimulating experiences and keeping in mind that the way is paved with pitfalls and barriers. Not expecting short term results and embracing lessons learned along the way will feed this new mindset, curious to find new solutions.

First steps

A good way to start this innovation expedition is by organizing an experience of 1-3 days, allowing anyone within the organization that would like to participate to join. During this experience the participants go through the process of Dutch Design Thinking, either via a serious game of on a real life case. During this experience, you will see who has the mindset and attitude to become a member of the multidisciplinary innovation expedition team. This team will set a next step by being trained and initiate their first steps to develop innovative solutions. They are likely to spot opportunities themselves, turning them into value for others. Along the way they will spot new participants in this journey too, who enter the process. This way of working is adopted by a growing number of organizations, like the Innovatiecoaches Defensie of the Dutch Ministry of Defence.