ATA: What’s a good framework for innovation?

I was thinking this morning about innovation and why there’s so little of it about. I am most familiar with the need for and lack of innovation in the media industry, but the lessons from media are applicable in any sector. Here are a few I’ve spotted:

  • Innovation can come from anywhere. Anyone facing a business problem can be a source of inventive thinking. Asking someone to innovate or creating an innovation team, on the other hand, is doomed to failure because being inventive on demand is nigh on impossible for most people.
  • Ideas need an opportunity to grow. How many people are having ideas that could help your business, if only they had the opportunity to mature? It’s far too easy to say ‘no’ to a good idea just because it’s not yet mature. Say ‘yes’ instead and give ideas room to develop.
  • Even good ideas need compost to take root. Make sure there are resources available to make good ideas happen.
  • Fail early, fail often. Most ideas, even good ones, won’t work out the way we want them to. It’s just a fact of life, so make the cost of failure low, particularly the social cost of failure. If you have someone who has lots of good ideas that never quite make it, you want them to carry on having good ideas because one of them might just be gold.
  • Give ideas time to blossom. Sometimes success doesn’t come right away. There’s no point putting effort into nurturing innovation only to then throw a hissy fit when it doesn’t return results immediately. Maybe it’s just a slow burner.
  • Consider independence. Some innovations get squashed just as they are getting going because, at the first hint of success, they are rolled into the company where they promptly get suffocated. Maybe your innovation needs a little independence so that it can grow up to be a big, strapping lad.

In practical terms, I think this means having a loose framework for innovation. Ensuring that everyone knows that their ideas are welcome, that there are clinics for discussing ideas in a creative and positive way. Resist saying ‘no’ just because you can. Have budget and resources ringfenced for innovation projects so that when someone does have a good idea you can carry that momentum forward. There’s no bigger motivation killer than the phrase “Yes, we can get moving on that in six months”. Know how you’re going to develop ideas, both in terms of maturing the idea and putting it into practice. Be patient with innovation. Unlike in the movies, it doesn’t happen overnight.

But this is a big topic. What are your tips for encouraging innovation?