The Five Most Overlooked Paths to Innovation

17 April, 2018 / Articles
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Bring together a group of highly intelligent individuals who are passionate about their business and dedicated to finding solutions, and innovation is inevitable, right? Actually, no.

In working with C-level leaders who are struggling with organic growth, mergers and collaborations, I have seen their frustration and the frustration of their teams when innovation fails. The very ideas that would make growth, mergers and collaborations easier get trampled underfoot or never expressed.

The path to innovation is littered with well-meaning people and ideas that failed. The five paths I recommend here will not only generate ideas but ensure their execution.

Path 1: Create A Process

Someone in your organization develops a great idea. What happens next? Without an innovation process or if it is too complicated, that idea dies an early death.

A healthcare CEO recently shared with me how an incomplete process affected his own innovation efforts, even after he received buy-in from the hospital leadership team. Application of the innovation took over six months because he had to navigate each of the following steps on his own: security review, privacy review, IT integration, institutional review board approval and supply chain sourcing. While there were processes for each of these components, the institution did not have an end-to-end innovation process, creating a new roadblock at every point.

Innovative leaders cannot tackle alone the multitude of regulations, stakeholders, departments and committees, plus the daily tasks that stand in their way. Every organization looking for innovation needs a process that supports, not impedes, new ideas.

Path 2: Listen

In the worst case, an unsupportive culture can go so far as to blame an innovator for complaining about the status quo, rocking the boat and insisting that a solution is needed. Even in the best case, an unsupportive culture leaves an innovator feeling ignored and unappreciated.

I encouraged a director of operations who had been unsuccessful in convincing two newly merged organizations to automate their incompatible systems.

We began with a survey that showed widespread frustrations with the current situation, then built an innovation team (see Path 3 below) to address the problem, including a C-level leader, several providers and coordinators. “It was interesting how all those levels of management worked together: middle management working with senior management and everyone buying into the solution,” the director recalled. “We showed how logical this solution was, and we got the funding.”

With training in communicating their ideas, innovation leaders not only increase the level of buy-in but learn how to support the feasibility and return on investment with data that are clear and compelling.

Path 3: Build Innovation Teams

Innovation may start with one person with a great idea, but all too often, it ends there.

Every successful innovation requires a team: a visionary — someone with a clear direction on how and where to innovate, a motivator and coach — someone with the capacity to engage others, and an executor — someone with the will, ability and resources to actually effect change. All three roles (visionary, coach and executor) have equal importance in achieving innovation. Lack any one, and that great idea dies.

When those different roles are recognized, planned for and valued, innovation soars. As the Center for Creative Leadership notes, “Leaders must learn to shift away from the ‘individual expert’ model … and move towards a model that leverages cross-boundary groups and teams and spans disciplines, levels, functions, generations, and professions. The most pressing challenges … cannot be solved by one person, one specialty, or one organization. They require expertise, ideas, and support from multiple perspectives and stakeholders.”

In helping leaders to identify and understand leadership and communication styles that are different from their own (their change intelligence), I have seen an upsurge in their ability to embrace new ideas at all levels. The concept of change intelligence gives leaders a non-confrontational vocabulary for discussing any institutional barriers or personal limitations that might jeopardize a great idea.

Path 4: Make It Happen Fast

Innovation can seem overwhelming. Breaking it down into significant steps that must be completed within a set timeframe gives everyone hope that progress can be made and there’s an incentive to make it happen. Having a process, supportive culture and team are vital for innovation — so is progress.

A small idea quickly and adequately executed has more impact than a large idea that goes nowhere.

Path 5: Create Stability At The Top

According to a report by Challenger, Grey & Christmas, “The number of Chief Executive Officers leaving their posts at U.S.-based companies reached 113 in February, 56.9 percent higher than February 2017, when 72 CEO exits were announced.” That instability in leadership makes innovation challenging at any level: Today’s great idea is forgotten tomorrow.

When CEOs and boards are innovation oriented, they are more open to hearing what their executive teams and employees have to say and more likely to recognize what everyone is doing right, rather than focusing on problems alone.

Conclusion

Developing an innovation process, innovation teams, a supportive culture and a commitment to taking that first step might seem challenging, but they are necessary paths to real innovation and to solving the problems that emerge during growth, mergers and collaborations. In the words of U.S. General Eric Shinseki, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.

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