Intellectual Property Attorney, Innovation Strategist, SteveSponseller.com
Business leaders know that innovation is critical to the growth and success of a company. But implementing a company-wide system for even identifying innovative ideas often triggers a strong protest against any initiative that might cause disruptions to the operation of the business.
Employees are already overloaded, so it’s only natural that adding innovation activities, and the uncertainty that comes with innovation, is likely to be met with resistance. You can overcome this resistance by launching an innovation team rather than rolling out a company-wide innovation program. As an Innovation Strategist, I have found that it’s rarely, if ever, necessary or advantageous to involve all of your organization in the innovation efforts. Properly configured and supported, small innovation teams can generate a multitude of valuable ideas without upsetting the day-to-day operations of the business.
1. Identify innovation team members.
Select a group of six to eight people who have shown an interest in innovation for your first team. Choose people who enjoy creative activities, who are strong leaders likely to be interested in piloting the new innovation team. Some companies select people from the same department or group within an organization, such as the design or development group. However, a diverse team with members from different parts of the business will be more successful in big picture innovation.
For example, the innovation team may contain representatives from product development, marketing, manufacturing, sales, customer service, executive leadership, and so forth. This team diversity provides a wide range of experiences and job functions, which typically results in more ideas and a broader range of innovation.
2. Set the ground rules.
In any group of people developing creative ideas, ground rules are required to keep them from running amok. These rules include a prohibition against criticizing ideas or dismissing them as “impossible.” Although a particular idea may not be commercially feasible (e.g., too expensive or too time-consuming to develop), it may be a seed or “trigger” to another idea. Therefore, every idea has value and must be presented without criticism to support the progression of ideas.
I have facilitated many innovation meetings where one idea leads to another, which triggers additional ideas and, eventually, a valuable and commercially feasible idea is developed that can significantly impact the business. If any of the initial ideas had been criticized or disregarded, the group would not have reached the idea with the potential to create growth and wealth.
3. Generate seeds.
A productive way to start a team meeting is with a set of seed ideas. Start with customer complaints, new feature requests, unmet needs of products in the market, industry trends, and product trends. All of these seeds represent problems to solve or opportunities to create new products or services.
For example, customer service representatives may identify frequent problems or frustrations encountered by customers. The sales department identifies features requested by customers or competitor features that are resulting in lost sales. Every company should keep a list of seed ideas that can help initiate group or individual brainstorming sessions.
4. Schedule group idea sessions.
Occasional team meetings to generate ideas often generate valuable ideas in a short period of time. Using seed ideas with a group of people creates a progression of thoughts that can solve a variety of problems or identify new opportunities for the business.
I have been part of team sessions that start with a single problem and ended up solving the original problem as well as creating new product enhancements that provided a competitive edge to the company. Record the innovative ideas generated in these group sessions for future meetings. Some of the ideas from one meeting may become seed ideas for the next meeting or individual brainstorming sessions.
5. Encourage individual sessions.
Individual team members should be encouraged to spend time by themselves developing ideas. These ideas can be expansions of ideas discussed in the group sessions or new topics not previously discussed. Some of these individual ideas are useful as seed ideas for later team meetings. The practice of individual brainstorming sessions can also cultivate innovative thinking that becomes a daily habit for the individual team members.
If your business does not already have an innovation program, or if your program has not been effective for you, then today is the perfect time for you to create an innovation team. As this innovation team begins producing valuable ideas for your company, you will expand the flow of innovative ideas by creating additional teams, which will steadily develop a culture of innovation throughout the organization.