How to foster your team’s innovation

Serious international diverse business team people and african female leader boss discuss financial result review paperwork, being an allyI wonder what attracted you to read this article? Perhaps you & your team are being asked to “go innovate”?

Maybe you feel that while people in your team have ideas, (everybody does), they are loath to share them? Or maybe you feel it would be wasted effort as your organisation does not embrace “the new” so well?

So here are three considerations as you try to foster innovation in your team:

  1. Empower people to test their own ideas

Lack of confidence is a main reason for not proposing a new idea. How does someone know if their idea is good or not? Well, the main reason for new initiatives to fail is that people with ideas are making incorrect assumptions about the problems, needs or desires that they are out to solve.

So the starting point is to gather evidence that the problems, needs and desires that they think exist really do and that the existing solutions could be improved upon. The only way to find this out for real, is by carrying out some light-touch research conversations with those intended beneficiaries (be they customers, users or other employees). There’s nothing like hearing it from the horse’s mouth!

So the premise here is to empower people to carry out their own really early idea testing. Then if the idea flies in this early research test, your employee will have the confidence to put it forward as they now have evidence.

  1. Re-position failure as positive 

Fear of failure will certainly stop people from thinking and getting outside of the box, especially if people have been burnt from a failed idea before. As the saying goes, once bitten, twice shy, no one wants to be branded a failure, a loser, a waste of time and energy.

So we need to change how we perceive failure. There are so many quotes from leading and successful innovators about this. That failure is the most important part of innovation; that if things aren’t failing you’re not innovating enough; that the fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate and as Thomas Edison famously said “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

So here’s how that re-positioning goes: We expect many ideas to fail which is why we want you to test them out quickly, cheaply and early. This means that we can fail quickly, cheaply and early too – before we invest and lose any real money. “Test before you invest”. As we share all our insights from these tests across the team, understanding what doesn’t work will help us to get better at finding the ideas that will work. Failure is a necessary part of learning.

  1. The organisation needs to show that they give new ideas a chance

It’s so easy for decision makers to kill early ideas by expecting too much certainty. At the early stage of an idea, the best we can hope for is some evidence that the problem, need or desire exists, that the current solutions can be improved upon and that the action we need someone to take to get the benefit is realistic. We certainly do not want to be asking for full business cases yet – we haven’t even started working on solutions!

I have seen the value of ring fencing small budgets for early idea development so that they don’t need to compete with other initiatives which have more predictable and reliable ROI.  Budgets need to be invested in smaller increments rather than having people forced to bid for larger sums of money to go and build solutions. These smaller awards are to prove ideas, by taking the biggest assumptions into research rather than to steam ahead and start building solutions which may be fraught with risky assumptions, which are all the riskier as larger sums of money are in question.

As we are talking about smaller amounts of funding, these investment decisions can also be made further down the organisation, which means that team managers could be responsible for making their own early innovation investments. Making decisions more locally encourages teams to innovate, as they see their managers making the investment decisions and they know that they do not need to compete against the bigger ticket items.

These are ways that your organisation can signal that they are open to innovation.

Based on years of experience helping people and organisations to move ideas forward, I have created a 7 step method. It helps people test their own ideas cheaply, quickly and practically and is a proven way to foster innovation in your teams.

Julia ShaletAbout the author

Julia Shalet is author of new book, The Really Good Idea Test, published by Pearson, £16.99. She also offers highly commended practical hands-on training & workshops to help move ideas forward. Find out more at productdoctor.co.uk.

 

 


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