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25 innovation mantras for the soul

One of Econsultancy’s core brand values is innovation. As observers we are spoilt for choice, sitting as we do in the middle of the internet industry, admiring innovation on a daily basis. 

We regularly produce an Innovation Report, where we compile some of the cooler things we’ve seen lately. And there is the Econsultancy Innovation Awards, which you must enter if you have been doing amazing things in 2010 (just nine days left until the deadline!).

As such it made a lot of sense to create the role of Director of Innovation at Econsultancy, which I stepped into a few months ago (after eight years as editor). I’m here to encourage, harness and support innovation, among other things. We’ve rolled out a few small projects that are already making a difference, and more are in the pipeline. 

What then, are the common characteristics of an innovative organisation? What are the things you need to put in place if you want innovation to thrive from within? How can you encourage your staff to share ideas and contribute to your innovation programme? What is innovation anyway? Here are 25 thoughts / mantras / ideas on innovation…

Innovation needs needs 

What do people need to make something work better? What problems need fixing? Without a need you’ll be innovating a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. And that, in the words of Duncan Bannatyne, would be ridiculous.

Innovation should happen locally at first

Try innovating a solution to a small internal problem to begin with. Perhaps one that helps improve staff satisfaction (by automating and eliminating routine tasks, for example). Innovate a better world for your colleagues, before you start focusing on your customers. Bad systems are a big cause of staff dissatisfaction. Initiatives that free up time for staff should improve well-being in the workplace.

Innovation should be habitual

The reason why you want to start small is to actually innovate something tangible. You also want to create an environment where innovation actually exists, and occurs on a frequent basis. It needs to become a habit.

Innovation is about finding and mining the gap

Do some gap analysis. Create some Venn diagrams. Estimate the size of the gap / opportunity. Dive in if the water looks warm enough.

Innovation loves techies

And techies love to innovate. They want to be working on sexy projects, rather than boring ones, so try to get them onside nice and early. Be agile. Build fast. Release. Watch. Iterate. Innovate.

Innovation should be within reach

A great / feasible idea is one within the reach of your resources (and of science). Think big and aim high, but don’t enter the realms of dreamland. It needs to be contextual and relevant too… we won’t be building an interstellar rocket anytime soon. 

Innovation is not ‘creativity’, it is ‘focused creativity’

You need a framework, a structure, a process for capturing and executing ideas. And you need to allocate time to do the job well.

Innovation embraces the wrong notes

I taught myself how to play guitar by listening to records. I have no clue whatsoever about music theory, or how to read music, or what chord structures are acceptable. As such I don’t recognise ‘wrong’ notes as being wrong. A ‘wrong’ note can create the dissonance that makes a song great. I think innovation is a lot like this. A lack of experience can be a real bonus, when imagining new solutions to old problems. Being aware of limits can be limiting.

Innovation requires brainstorming

Ideas are what makes the world spin. Put a date in the diary. Buy a Moleskine notebook. Take your team to the pub. 

Innovation needs questions

There are more questions than answers, or at least there should be. Questions are the heart of brainstorming. What if did X? How can we do Y? Who would benefit from Z?

Innovation isn’t about following the crowd

Dare to be different. Don’t be a sheep. Think for yourself. There is normally more than one way of doing things, so there aren’t necessarily any right or wrong approaches (it’s just that some will be better than others).

Innovation requires curation

We probably have 100 decent ideas every week. The only way to whittle down that shortlist is to rank ideas, in order to prioritise innovation projects. You can apply weightings to your ideas, to help you score them (e.g. by difficulty, by cost, by market opportunity, by uplift to productivity / efficiency , etc).

Innovation needs action

You can dream a dream, but can you turn it into reality? Innovation requires focused effort for ideas to materialise in the real world. Play around with ideas and approaches. Experiment. Be sure to make something real happen, so that you can observe and learn from it.

Innovation is a scream

Failure can be funny. I should probably insert a stock quote about failure here, but that would be a little too obvious. Failure means you’re trying, and to begin with that’s more important than winning.

Innovation is not about becoming judge and jury

Constructive criticism is essential, but don’t go pointing the finger of blame if projects are driven down innovation cul-de-sacs. Just learn from it and move on. Only a loser would take the piss out of somebody for trying to do something in a new way. 

Innovation can pay for itself

Never ignore the business case, especially when prioritising projects. We have imagined – but have yet to develop – any number of new tools that would help people to do their jobs more effectively. Some of these provide enough value to be paid-for. Watch this space!

Innovation is not just about widgets and tools and tech

It also relates to processes, workflow, and culture. The last one is important as many large companies are struggling with organisational change, and I believe that innovation can really change staff mindsets and customer perceptions.

Innovation needs leadership and stakeholders

Otherwise there’s anarchy. Somebody needs to take some ownership and make things happen. I’m a cheerleader, as much as anything… a focus point within the organisation to try to push new ideas through. 

Innovation should be inclusive

Some of the best ideas for your organisation will come from those underpaid people working in your call centres. They hear it all, and they know your business inside out. They are on the front line and probably know more than you about customer satisfaction. They need to be engaged. Innovation shouldn’t be limited to the boardroom / senior management / techies.

Innovation loves collaboration

Your staff are your best asset when it comes to social media, and the same applies for innovation. Everybody has a view. Most staffers like to be asked for input and insight, and they want to contribute to projects that will help them to do their jobs more effectively.

Innovation needs inspiration

Here is my killer plan: 1. Fly to Tokyo. 2. Look around. 3. Take notes. 4. File under ‘Innovation’ on expenses form. My point is that inspiration drives creative thinking. Visit an art gallery. Eat something new. Head outside of your comfort zone and explore the world a little bit more. 

Innovation doesn’t mean being first to market

In the technology industry the ‘first mover advantage’ is massively overhyped. Google wasn’t the first search engine. The iPod wasn’t the first portable digital music player. It’s a myth that being first matters. A lot of the time real innovation occurs when an existing type of product is hugely improved. 

Innovation requires ‘flow’

You know that state of mind that you get into where you’re in the zone, where times flies by, where you’re really concentrating on the task at hand? That’s what psychologists call ‘flow’. I think it is a key component of innovation. No multitasking! Focus, dammit!

Innovation needs time to breathe

Your ideas, projects, products and services need room to grow. Innovating a new product and releasing it into a dying market seems pointless. Look to innovate in areas primed for growth, be they markets, or on the operational side of your business (i.e. the parts of your business that are becoming busier, and where new approaches could help create efficiencies).

Innovation is good for the soul

Making new things, improving old things, and learning new tricks can be a rewarding experience. Especially if you do it well and make a real difference to people.

There are no doubt tons of others… what did I miss?

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