I’m going to attempt to figure out what a framework for innovation looks like for a medium sized organisation (less than 250 staff). This will largely be from my own perspective of working in social housing – so expect this to be slanted towards public and third sector work.
It’s generally accepted that we need to innovate in order to keep up with the changing environment our organisations operate in. However, innovation has become a bit of an ambiguous term of late. Most people are starting to recognise it’s needed, but how does that actually translate into day to day actions?
I work in IT and innovation often arrives on my doorstep in the form of “How can we do X?” or “Why can’t we do Y” and more often “I’ve seen Z at <other place> and I think we need to do that too!”. At this point, the emphasis tends to be on action (fix my problem) rather than experimentation (are you sure there is a problem?). Once a project has been defined it’s incredibly difficult to halt or deviate should influencing factors change. The more resource that’s assigned to deliberate on it, the less likely it will be allowed to fail even if all signs indicate that it should. As humans we are pre-programmed with a need to make things work.
“Creativity Loves Constraints”
– Marrisa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo
Having a framework to explore new ideas and fail fast(er) should accelerate decision making, inform the business strategy and enable course change sooner in response to demands inside/outside the organisation. A framework for innovation enables experimentation with concepts before there’s a crushing need to embrace them.
I’m going to attempt to figure out precisely what that looks like here. This will be a Working Out Loud exercise, so I’ll be forming thoughts and concepts as we go along. Feedback is always welcome, so if you think there’s a flaw in my logic or that I’m talking gibberish – pipe up! Let’s fix it together.
I thought I’d tackle this by identifying the main activities or themes first and then iterate on each one, adding more detail as we go.
I envisage the journey of an idea would go something like this…
- Frame – focus people on a problem or challenge
- Collect – a method for staff to submit ideas
- Evaluate – some way of initially sorting out the plausible from the unworkable
- Test – flesh the idea out and test assumptions without expending too much time/money
- Pilot – small scale version of the idea to see if it’s sustainable & viable
- Deliver – idea moves from ‘the lab’ over to the business plan
Failure is the norm for innovation, it should be recognised as a standard part of the creative process. Rapid iteration is the order of the day rather than success. This should be communicated to everyone very early on to remove the stigma around failure. Not all ideas will make it through all the steps. In fact, many might only make it through the first two. The idea is to avoid zombie project syndrome and kill anything that has no immediate value as soon as possible. This will allow for a new idea to take its place.
“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
– Henry Ford
It’s important to document every stage of the journey as changing conditions inside/outside the organisation might allow an originally shelved idea to become viable. Documentation should be good enough so that months or years down the line it’s easy to understand who was involved, what was tested and what made it unworkable. Essentially it’s about building a museum of failed products which keeps newly submitted ideas from re-treading old ground and repeating the same mistakes.
In the next post I’ll be tackling the first step in the process : Frame.