Innovation that's out of control
No, today I'm interested in focusing on how to make any innovation effort more successful. And while I've written about good processes and well-trained people and other factors that make innovation successful, there is one standby that will always be effective. That's what we like to call rapid, disruptive innovation, and the reason it is so successful is that it can be completed before many of the sleeping dragons in your business are aware it happened.
Time is one enemy
No matter how many times you are told that wine, like cheese needs time to mature, that saying has nothing beneficial for innovation. Innovation needs to work at top speed, because everything in an existing corporate culture seeks to slow it down. Forms to fill out, approvals to seek, staff to acquire - everything about a modern business is focused on a steady drumbeat, 33RPMs. And while that works well for everyday business, it is often fatal for innovation. Because with every delay, every review, every reason to reconsider, your organization will attach more reasons to doubt, more reasons to change the scope of the effort, and more resources will be drained away, all of course at the same time that the "real world" just outside of your cultural boundaries continues to move ahead at light speed. Very few ideas improve with time, and when they improve with time it is usually as a series of exceptionally rapid experiments. Unless you have an optimized innovation process incorporating rapid experimentation, your innovation processes will begin to mimic your existing "business as usual" processes. They will define steps and decisions and staffing and will slow down the effort.
The Perfect is the enemy of the Good
While the subtitle just above is a famous saying, we should note that it is especially true when thinking about innovation. Many businesses often want to wait until they have the "perfect" idea, the "perfect" team, the "perfect" presentation. What you need for innovation success is a relatively good idea and a lot of tolerance for imperfections. While you are perfecting your idea, you may be missing a market window, or chipping away features or benefits that matter to customers to ensure the product fits within your description of perfection. A highly relevant, 80% complete product in the right time frame will attract customers who will allow you to make improvements, while a 100% perfect product that misses a market window or doesn't include features customers expect will die on the vine. This "perfection" is a corollary of the time consideration just above. It takes time to "perfect" any concept, and as time elapses more issues, challenges and concerns can be raised.
The illusion of Control
The final factor I'd like to highlight today is "control". Managers and business processes desire the illusion of control over decisions, processes, products. And to some degree they have control over the regular, repeatable products and processes, but they have far less control over the outliers - the disruptive innovative ideas. If they attempt to exercise too much control over these ideas, they work to improve and "perfect" them according to their understanding, rather than take a risk with customer insight. The more "control" that is placed on an idea by a culture or decision making process, the more the idea will conform to the internal expectations of what a "good" product or solution is, rather than what a customer wants or needs. This isn't to say that innovation must be completely "out of control". Clearly some "control" is necessary, but each activity or process should be aware of he risk of too much control. Further we must assure that non-conformity isn't simply strangled in the crib.
Off the Rails
These points indicate that innovation can't ride your regular railroad. Your existing processes, decisions, resourcing, "perfection" of the products will stymie innovation and eventually force it to conform to existing concepts. But rather than run off the rails, perhaps you must consider a parallel track, where interesting ideas work more rapidly, with less control and perfection, but with some reasonable "guardrails". A completely undefined track leads nowhere, but your existing tracks lead to "more of the same". Good innovators understand how to build express trains for innovation that may occasionally jump the tracks, but arrive more quickly and with more distinctions and differentiations than your existing products.