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The thing about innovation is it can’t be forced. What I mean by that is you cannot simply decide to be innovative. We can’t just say today, “We start innovating tomorrow.” You can adopt cutting-edge technologies but that doesn’t automatically classify you or your organization as “innovative.”
Innovation is a spark-filled process that involves an entire team of people willing to look at things differently; a group of individuals willing to fail in the name of trailblazing. This is a process achieved over time, but only with the right ideologies in place.
What Innovation Mean to Me
For me, innovation means doing something in a way which is quite neat. It’s novel; it’s finding an elegant solution to a problem that was previously solved with brute force. Let’s take software as a service (SaaS) as an example.
Software as a service is a commercially elegant solution for something that was traditionally not very elegant at all. Before the advent of SaaS, you bought that software, you paid money for a license fee, and you brought it into your organization. You then stood it up on technology and hardware. Because it was out-of-the-box, you had to tailor it to your specific organization which required more time, more money, and more people.
Then, people started questioning the effectiveness of this solutioning.
“Why would I spend several thousand more dollars to make this software bespoke to me?”
Thus, SaaS was born out of people seeking a more elegant solution. SaaS allows organizations to purchase and use software without having to amend it to suit their unique needs. It’s the same solution, but the new way of adoption is innovative.
How to Create a Culture of Innovation
Innovation can only happen if it’s supported by a purposefully built culture of teamwork, boldness, experimentation, and failure—yes, failure. The pursuit of innovation means a departure from the familiar and maybe even a few unsavory moments, but it’s a small price to pay for the rewards.
Freedom to Fail
Failure is not fun. But it is an essential component of the innovation process.
Failures will reveal that the ideas you’re excited about don’t work. That will hurt. But it will save you lots of money. And if you’re paying attention, it will also reveal new ideas to test. That leads directly to another key to success: run multiple experiments on an ongoing basis so that the failures don’t matter. Investing $1 million in 50 small projects makes financial sense when even a single one of them yields a $1 billion innovation.
The key is to fail fast and to learn from your failures. This can include business process and products that never quite meet expectations. Operational failures, however, should not be considered part of the innovation process. If your “innovation” is interrupting your flow of invoices, you need to go back to the drawing board.
Be a Team
Innovation is really just the way that you work as a team.
Innovation is rarely done by a single person. It takes an entire group of uninhibited, inspired people to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas freely. With ideas and knowledge being transferred more rapidly, teamwork has a direct effect on creativity. With creativity abound, organizations can become better problem solvers.
To foster a culture of creativity and collaboration, you must promote equality and eliminate barriers that separate job roles. Everyone should feel comfortable and even confident pitching ideas and asking “stupid” questions.
Though clique, the phrase, “Better together,” is entirely true, especially when pursuing innovation.
When I was just starting out, I remember sitting in rooms and feeling like I didn’t know anything. I felt like I had nothing to offer, so I would sit silently and not contribute.
Now, my career has matured, and I’ve got many years of great experience under my belt. Therefore, I should be one of the smartest people in the room, right? Typically, the most senior person or the loudest person in the room wins. Quite often though, that’s not the right person who should be winning.
I want somebody else to be the smartest person in the room.
What I’ve learned on my lifelong learning journey is to listen to different people at different levels, because everyone has different ways of doing something, which could be quite innovative. Based on backgrounds, educations, and experiences, we all have completely unique brain patterns worth expressing. I want to coax ideas out of everyone, regardless of seniority.
So be bold. Volunteering a thought while in the company of enterprise leaders can be scary—petrifying even—but vulnerability is commendable and could lead to the “next big thing.” Nobody else thinks like you, and that is truly innovative.
One thing the technology industry does really well is take orders—and that’s not always a good thing. Customers will often come to us with a problem and what they think is the solution.
“We’re struggling with X and Y so we want you to build Z.”
Often times, the technologist will agree without pushing the envelope.
For innovation to happen, technologists must hit the pause button and ask their customers, “What is it that you’re truly wanting to do?”
That little question can change the whole engagement trajectory; it gets clients thinking more deeply about the problem they’re facing. In having a more profound discussion with clients, we can dissect the problem and illuminate their goals. Then, our objective as technologists is to get customers to think outside the constructs of how that problem has been solved in the past so we can reach new heights together.
I’ve found that with my experience working on a diverse mix of projects, borrowing solutions from other industries is actually an effective way to innovate. Though the problems may be vastly different, we can apply the same technology in unique ways to get the job done.
Pushing back on client requests can be uncomfortable, but those moments will vanish into the past once you’re on the path to innovation.
Utilize Innovation Labs
Innovation labs or Labs-as-a-Service support innovation efforts by enabling users to prototype and test their digital ideas more quickly and thoroughly without having to invest in infrastructure and tools.
In practice, we’ve seen innovation labs yield a variety of valuable outcomes:
Companies can see results and get valuable feedback in weeks versus months, speeding overall cycle time, informing further investment decisions, and creating competitive advantage.
Creating a Culture of Innovation Within Your Team
What’s holding your organization back from taking the leap toward adopting innovation processes? If you’re like most of the firms we work with, it’s a hesitancy to take that first step.
We’re here to urge you: don’t wait any longer.
Yes, pivoting toward innovation-first processes can be uncomfortable. It requires you to move away from what’s familiar and try new things and fail and learn from those failures. Those are not fun at first, but they are fleeting. However, that lingering dread you’re feeling? That fear that you can’t keep up with the competition and you can’t do any more with any less because your teams are already underwater with work? Those are not short-lived. Innovation can be your one-way ticket out.
The first step is reaching out to us for a conversation. That part is painless! And it can lead to a whole new world of stability, growth, and (most of all) innovation. All you have to do is schedule a call. We can’t wait to hear from you.
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