Tag Archives: Inspiration

Every Company Needs an Innovation Coach

Retained InnovationInnovation is not a solo activity. While the rare lone genius may be able to invent something on their own (although still always inspired by others), nobody can innovate by themselves. Innovation, by its very nature, requires collaboration.

Companies are like brains. The brain is composed of two hemispheres. The left brain is typically described as the home to math and logic skills, while the right brain is described as the domain of creativity. Of course people need to develop both hemispheres to be successful, and companies are the same. Achieving operational excellence is the goal of the left brain side of the organization and innovation excellence should be the goal of the right side of the organization. Unfortunately, most organizations over-invest in operational excellence to the point that the organization fights off innovation excellence efforts like a virus.

So, what’s the cure?

Not to get sick in the first place of course!

To achieve that, consider putting an innovation wellness program in place. And what does that look like?

An innovation wellness program has at its center, an organization that is willing to reach outside its four walls for a constant stream of new inspiration. Because it is inspiration in combination with curiosity that will give the organization a fighting chance of identifying ongoing sources of unique and differentiated insights that will allow the organization to continuously reinvent itself and stay in resonance with its customers.

A couple tangible examples of innovation wellness program components include:

  1. Embedding elements of so-called Open Innovation into the core of the organization’s innovation approach rather than existing as a periodic guest
  2. Continuous reinforcement of a curiosity culture
  3. Employment of a part-time innovation coach on an ongoing basis

Robert F BrandsWhat does an innovation coach look like?

Well, one good example was the late Robert F. Brands, who was lost to the global innovation community far too soon. He was a friend, a colleague, a mentor, a partner on work we did for the United States Navy, and he helped me get the book deal for my first five-star book – Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire.

A good innovation coach helps you avoid the ten signs of innovation sickness:

  1. Nobody can articulate your definition of innovation (or you don’t have one)
  2. Nobody can articulate your innovation vision/strategy/goals (or you don’t have them)
  3. People struggle to tell the story of one or more innovations launched to wide adoption by the organization
  4. Most of what passes as innovation inside the organization would actually be classified as improvements (not innovation) by people outside the organization
  5. The organization no longer makes external innovation perspectives available to a wide audience
  6. Nobody takes the time to participate in our innovation efforts anymore
  7. Your organization is unable to accept insights and ideas from outside the organization and develop them into concepts that can be scaled to wide adoption
  8. Innovation program leadership has difficulty getting time on the CEO’s calendar any more
  9. Your innovation team is trying to do all of the innovating instead of helping to accelerate the innovation efforts of others
  10. Your pace of innovation is slower than the organizations you compete with for market share, donations, votes, etc.

A good innovation coach can help you:

1. Perform an innovation assessment

I developed a 50 question innovation audit and made it available in support of my first book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire, so that people can do a self-evaluation of their innovation maturity here on my web site. Or if you would like to dig a little deeper into the dynamics of innovation in your organization, I can work with you to do an innovation diagnostic across your organization and/or help you establish a baseline so you can track your innovation maturity progress over time.

2. Establish a Continuous Innovation Infrastructure

Many companies confuse having a New Product Development (NPD) program or a Research & Development (R&D) program with having an innovation program, or are stuck in an ‘innovation as a project’ approach to innovation. A good innovation coach can help you define what innovation can and should mean to your organization, build a common language of innovation, create an innovation vision, establish an innovation strategy that dovetails with your organization’s overall strategy, and develop innovation goals that will help focus the organization’s efforts to realize its innovation vision and strategy.

3. Teach You Some New Innovation Tools, Methods, and Frameworks

A good innovation coach is also a skilled facilitator and can help facilitate innovation off-sites, an effective trainer who can develop the custom courses you need to teach people in the organization new tools, methods, or frameworks to improve or accelerate your innovation capabilities, and is capable of delivering inspirational keynotes to large groups inside your organization to help shift mindsets and help people feel empowered to participate in the innovation efforts of the organization. The best innovation coaches are capable not just of bringing in the tools, methods and frameworks of others, but are also capable of understanding your innovation gaps and creating new innovation tools, methods and frameworks to help you.

4. Help You Identify Insights and Opportunities

Innovation begins with inspiration, and your curiosity and exploration should lead you to identify some good insights to build on and opportunities to pursue. But, because most ideas are really idea fragments, sometimes an innovation coach or other external perspectives can help you identify the gaps in your idea fragment or opportunity identification that might make them more compelling, especially if you aren’t making a conscious use of The Nine Innovation Roles as part of your innovation process to help you avoid innovation blind spots. A good innovation coach can also help you go beyond ideas and help you focus on not just one, but all three keys to innovation success:

  • Value Creation
  • Value Access
  • Value Translation

Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire will help you learn more about each, or you can check out my previous article ‘Innovation is All About Value‘.

5. Tell You Honestly When You’re Going Off Course

A good innovation coach will have the courage to be honest with you and tell you when you’ve lost your way. Over time, many innovation teams tend to come down with shiny object syndrome or its equally evil cousin, launch fever. A competent innovation coach will be able to recognize the change and help you course correct before you pass the point of no return, and put the very existence of your innovation program at risk. A good innovation coach is able to provide a consistent external perspective, a sanity check, and may be able to also help you build external connections to invite in other external perspectives as well.

Wrapping it Up

It is easy to fall in love with the innovation process and program you’ve created. It is equally simple to form attachments to your innovation projects and artifacts and think that you’ve cracked the code, and maybe you have, but wouldn’t you like to keep one toe in the pond outside your organization just to make sure?

Book Innovation Speaker Braden Kelley for Your EventCreating and maintaining a part-time relationship with an innovation coach you trust is a great way to do that. Smart organizations keep a pulse on their level of innovation maturity over time. They’re continuously evolving their innovation infrastructure, building new capabilities, and seeking out external perspectives as a sanity check on their program evolutions over time. So what are you waiting for?

Who’s going to coach your winning innovation team?

Contact me now to set up a free introductory consultation


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We Are Target. Who Are You?

By now you’ve probably seen the video of the Target employee standing on the checkout counter delivering a Mel Gibson, Braveheart inspired speech to fellow employees prior to opening the doors on Black Friday (nearly 4 million views and counting).

The video ends with “Because we are more than just a store. This is a team! This is a family! This is Target!!!”

It left me with one central idea at the end, and that’s the title of this article “We Are Target. Who Are You?” and the reason it left me with this idea is that in our companies we too often take the passion out of business. We inadvertently, through the way we communicate internally, end up sending the message that people should leave their passion at home, or feel passionate about something else other than our company.

What would happen if didn’t kill people’s passion at the same time we time we’re busy killing their creativity?

What kinds of connections with our customers could we form if we were (from the top to the bottom) passionate about serving our customers, about crushing the competition, and trying to be better than them in every way?

Do you want to work for a mediocre company?

Does your company want to be mediocre?

Does your company want to provide crappy customer service?

If not, then first work on making your company excellent in every way possible, and then give people permission to be passionate about serving customers and about demonstrating that excellence.

Then you’ll be ready to shout it from the rooftops!
(or at least from the counter)


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Eight I’s of Infinite Innovation

Eight I's of Infinite Innovation

Some authors talk about successful innovation being the sum of idea plus execution, others talk about the importance of insight and its role in driving the creation of ideas that will be meaningful to customers, and even fewer about the role of inspiration in uncovering potential insight. But innovation is all about value and each of the definitions, frameworks, and models out there only tell part of the story of successful innovation.

To achieve sustainable success at innovation, you must work to embed a repeatable process and way of thinking within your organization, and this is why it is important to have a simple common language and guiding framework of infinite innovation that all employees can easily grasp. If innovation becomes too complex, or seems too difficult then people will stop pursuing it, or supporting it.

Some organizations try to achieve this simplicity, or to make the pursuit of innovation seem more attainable, by viewing innovation as a project-driven activity. But, a project approach to innovation will prevent it from ever becoming a way of life in your organization. Instead you must work to position innovation as something infinite, a pillar of the organization, something with its own quest for excellence – a professional practice to be committed to.

So, if we take a lot of the best practices of innovation excellence and mix them together with a few new ingredients, the result is a simple framework organizations can use to guide their sustainable pursuit of innovation – the Eight I’s of Infinite Innovation. This new framework anchors what is a very collaborative process. Here is the framework and some of the many points organizations must consider during each stage of the continuous process:

1. Inspiration

  • Employees are constantly navigating an ever changing world both in their home context, and as they travel the world for business or pleasure, or even across various web pages in the browser of their PC, tablet, or smartphone.
  • What do they see as they move through the world that inspires them and possibly the innovation efforts of the company?
  • What do they see technology making possible soon that wasn’t possible before?
  • The first time through we are looking for inspiration around what to do, the second time through we are looking to be inspired around how to do it.
  • What inspiration do we find in the ideas that are selected for their implementation, illumination and/or installation?

2. Investigation

  • What can we learn from the various pieces of inspiration that employees come across?
  • How do the isolated elements of inspiration collect and connect? Or do they?
  • What customer insights are hidden in these pieces of inspiration?
  • What jobs-to-be-done are most underserved and are worth digging deeper on?
  • Which unmet customer needs that we see are worth trying to address?
  • Which are the most promising opportunities, and which might be the most profitable?

3. Ideation

  • We don’t want to just get lots of ideas, we want to get lots of good ideas
  • Insights and inspiration from first two stages increase relevance and depth of the ideas
  • We must give people a way of sharing their ideas in a way that feels safe for them
  • How can we best integrate online and offline ideation methods?
  • How well have we communicated the kinds of innovation we seek?
  • Have we trained our employees in a variety of creativity methods?

4. Iteration

  • No idea emerges fully formed, so we must give people a tool that allows them to contribute ideas in a way that others can build on them and help uncover the potential fatal flaws of ideas so that they can be overcome
  • We must prototype ideas and conduct experiments to validate assumptions and test potential stumbling blocks or unknowns to get learnings that we can use to make the idea and its prototype stronger
  • Are we instrumenting for learning as we conduct each experiment?

Eight I's of Infinite Innovation

5. Identification

  • In what ways do we make it difficult for customers to unlock the potential value from this potentially innovative solution?
  • What are the biggest potential barriers to adoption?
  • What changes do we need to make from a financing, marketing, design, or sales perspective to make it easier for customers to access the value of this new solution?
  • Which ideas are we best positioned to develop and bring to market?
  • What resources do we lack to realize the promise of each idea?
  • Based on all of the experiments, data, and markets, which ideas should we select?

You’ll see in the framework that things loop back through inspiration again before proceeding to implementation. There are two main reasons why. First, if employees aren’t inspired by the ideas that you’ve selected to commercialize and some of the potential implementation issues you’ve identified, then you either have selected the wrong ideas or you’ve got the wrong employees. Second, at this intersection you might want to loop back through the first five stages though an implementation lens before actually starting to implement your ideas OR you may unlock a lot of inspiration and input from a wider internal audience to bring into the implementation stage.

6. Implementation

  • What are the most effective and efficient ways to make, market, and sell this new solution?
  • How long will it take us to develop the solution?
  • Do we have access to the resources we will need to produce the solution?
  • Are we strong in the channels of distribution that are most suitable for delivering this solution?

7. Illumination

  • Is the need for the solution obvious to potential customers?
  • Are we launching a new solution into an existing product or service category or are we creating a new category?
  • Does this new solution fit under our existing brand umbrella and represent something that potential customers will trust us to sell to them?
  • How much value translation do we need to do for potential customers to help them understand how this new solution fits into their lives and is a must-have?
  • Do we need to merely explain this potential innovation to customers because it anchors to something that they already understand, or do we need to educate them on the value that it will add to their lives?

8. Installation

  • How do we best make this new solution an accepted part of everyday life for a large number of people?
  • How do we remove access barriers to make it easy as possible for people to adopt this new solution, and even tell their friends about it?
  • How do we instrument for learning during the installation process to feedback new customer learnings back into the process for potential updates to the solution?

Conclusion

The Eight I’s of Infinite Innovation framework is designed to be a continuous learning process, one without end as the outputs of one round become inputs for the next round. It’s also a relatively new guiding framework for organizations to use, so if you have thoughts on how to make it even better, please let me know in the comments. The framework is also ideally suited to power a wave of new organizational transformations that are coming as an increasing number of organizations (including Hallmark) begin to move from a product-centered organizational structure to a customer needs-centered organizational structure. The power of this new approach is that it focuses the organization on delivering the solutions that customers need as their needs continue to change, instead of focusing only on how to make a particular product (or set of products) better.

So, as you move from the project approach that is preventing innovation from ever becoming a way of life in your organization, consider using the Eight I’s of Infinite Innovation to influence your organization’s mindset and to anchor your common language of innovation. The framework is great for guiding conversations, making your innovation outputs that much stronger, and will contribute to your quest for innovation excellence – so give it a try.

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