In many organizations, innovation remains an almost-mystical thing. We talk about it, we talk about its importance, but we do not talk about how it happens. The great opportunity for most organizations is to take innovation off of its pedestal in order to identify individual and group practices that make it real.
Consider group processes—our meetings and conversations where information is shared, decisions are made and problems are solved. These processes can potentially be a driver of innovation. But as a general rule, we are kind of sloppy with how we have these conversations.
If a group of humans is going to explore new ideas, generate creative solutions, and leave the room on the same page, two basic things need to happen: divergent thinking on the way to convergent thinking. In my experience, most teams are not very good at either. We often do not invite or seriously consider new ideas, and we continue to leave the room with very different levels of buy-in.
If you want more diversity of input on the front end, invite people to think about and submit their own ideas prior to the meeting. Outlaw phrases such as, “we tried that in back ‘77 and it was a huge failure,” or “that would never work here.” Prioritize quantity of ideas rather than quality, as there will be plenty of time to worry about quality.
One of the most valuable steps on the other side of the process is to make sure folks know how the decision is going to be made and how they are expected to participate. Disagreement done well is incredibly important to the process. It also frequently involves real and / or perceived risks. Remove as many of those risks as possible, and reward people for doing it well.
You can hire an SVP of Innovation and put together a fancy Innovation Committee, but most innovation is going to be driven by people close to the work, the products, and the customers telling the truth to each other. Identify practices and behaviors that create that opportunity.
Be good, or be good at it.