Innovation “on the cheap”

Innovation is critical for business success. This blog explains a simple innovation framework that any company can use.

For years now we’ve all heard that we need to be more innovative.  Large companies have invested millions or more in their version of an “innovation lab”.  Some of these labs have produced terrific ideas.  The question is how those of us running companies without millions to invest can be innovative.

In response to this need, GreatRidge put together an innovation framework.  We’ve used it informally at a couple of companies, and it has worked well.  The concept is pretty simple and doesn’t have to cost a ton of money to implement.  It is scalable and will grow with your company as needed.

The framework components are:

  • Create an “Innovation Council”. This is a small group of people who are good at motivating others to think outside the box.  The council should have members who are employees, contractors, and outsiders to the company.  This will foster creativity.  The council meets no more than monthly for a few hours.
  • Focus the Council. One of the common missteps in innovation is that people are given free reign to innovate in whatever area they want.  While this may work great for a global conglomerate, it can be the death of a medium size business.  Just like entrepreneurs with too many ideas (I wrote about this in a previous blog post), an innovation council without boundaries often wanders the desert with no clear focus.  Establish a strategy for the council and target the innovation activities.  If other ideas come up, save them for another more appropriate time.
  • Structure the Ideas. Like any set of unstructured data, the value of the information can only be realized once the unstructured data is structured.  There are tools available for purchase to manage the idea generation lifecycle (check out www.spigit.com for a really cool tool), but medium size businesses don’t need something this expansive.  A simple, well-structured, sharepoint site will do the trick.  A simple set of “toll gates” for each idea with some basic criteria for each gate would suffice (sample gates: idea definition; idea design (how would it work?); implementation considerations/plans).
  • Track and Evaluate Ideas. No matter how large or small a company is, the need a way to track ideas as they develop and a methodology to evaluate the ideas.  The tracking is easy (see the sharepoint comment above), and the evaluation doesn’t have to be complex.  A good evaluation methodology takes into account the idiosyncrasies of each individual business, industry, and leader preferences.  You can still make “gut decisions” if you like, but tracking the ideas and having a consistent way to present ideas for evaluation adds enough structure to the process to ensure good ideas don’t get overlooked.
  • Reward the winners! Always a good idea, but particularly valuable where innovation is desired.  These rewards can be in whatever form is consistent with your corporate culture (e.g. money; paid time off; an idea statue; chocolate bars emblazoned with the winning innovator’s face; water bottles heralding the idea on the label; etc.).  The more creative and original the reward, the more linkage to the concept of innovation!
  • Post Innovation Review. This is the part where innovation ends and the cold reality of company profitability begins.  At some point companies must decide whether the innovation worked or not.  This is necessary since unbridled innovation usually masks corporate waste and none of us can afford to waste time, resources, or money.  The innovation review is as simple as seeing whether the expected metrics were achieved or not and then deciding whether to invest more in this innovation, stop investing, or make a few changes and continue on the current path.  It doesn’t have to be painful (have the review at the local pub if you want to), but it must be done.

GreatRidge believes that not only any company can innovate, but that every company must innovate.  Hopefully this simple innovation framework will enable your company to innovate without stress and strain.  Let us know your thoughts and any ideas you have to increase innovation in your business.