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Managing innovation - five ways to kickstart innovation mastery

Module 6: Knowledge framework for growth

Innovation is at the heart of every healthy organisation, from commercial businesses to not-for-profits. For the most successful businesses, innovation flows through their veins. So how does a leader foster innovation and experimentation? One way is to stop thinking that you or your executive team need to be the fountain of all new ideas. The secret to deploying successful innovation strategies is to create a culture of innovation.

To help kickstart innovation mastery in your company, consider these five strategies:

1. Build innovation into your DNA

Michael Dell noted that the best learning comes from experimenting and failing. Leaders need to build organisations that encourage their employees to try new things, experiment, and learn from failure. Take 3M for example (best known for Post-it notes). Originally, the company aimed to develop a super-strong adhesive, but instead, accidentally, created the unique low-tack adhesive so famously used in Post-it notes today. Post-it notes is an example of how a ‘failed project’ became a runaway, billion-dollar success. The trick is to step back from a perceived failure and ask, “What outcome did we get?”, “What have we learned?”, and “What would we do differently next time?”

2. Get closer to customers

Great leaders never assume they know what their customers want. Avoid this trap by getting feedback from customers early in the product development process. Involving real customers in the design process puts them at the heart of innovation. But don’t always take what your customers say at face value. Ask questions to discover their underlying needs. They may say they need a car, but what they may really want is a symbol of their status.

3. Reward everybody for being innovative

Sometimes leaders emphasise the achievements of a solo performer or company star, such as the top sales person, the creative director, or the C-suite executive. They forget to acknowledge the contributions of all the people who enabled that star to shine. Don’t focus solely on individual achievements. Be sure to reward teams that work well together. Develop a compensation structure that rewards individuals as well as teams that innovate.

Michael Dell noted that the best learning comes from experimenting and failing

4. Give people time to create

Google has created a culture and a structure that nurtures innovation. The internet giant encourages its staff to spend 20% of their time on side projects. Some of the products developed as a result of this 20% rule are now household names like Google News, Gmail and AdSense. By setting aside time and encouraging employees to fool around with new ways of doing things, magic can happen. Some of the best ideas come when people are “playing”.

5. Understand the role of the leader in innovation

Leaders need to monitor changes and disruptions in the external environment. Even successful leaders can get caught unaware. It took a while for Bill Gates and his employees to recognise that Netscape was a huge disruptor. IBM had the same rude awakening with Apple. So keep abreast of trends and disruptions that could impact your company, and constantly think of how you could pivot in response to these external changes.

Some of the best ideas come when people are “playing”

Companies and organisations that don’t innovate will die. Sometimes it’s a quick death; often it’s a slow decline. Developing innovation mastery can open amazing opportunities for your company, and new possibilities for you as the leader of an innovative company.

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