The All-New Innovation Culture: 6 Ways to Involve Everyone, Everywhere, Every Day

News Flash: Innovation is no longer just a specialist’s job. What’s needed to keep up in today’s digital and global economy is a culture in which innovation is the mission of everyone, everywhere, every day.

futureMost people think that innovative ideas are magical and only randomly reveal themselves to so-called creative people. But few “eureka!” innovations come out of the blue. Instead, it’s to an organization’s advantage to optimize conditions that allow idea creation and implementation at every level. Companies pursuing innovation as their core business strategy realize 50% to 100% higher profit margins. And, when employees and leaders are confident that they can innovate, a chain reaction of positives occurs. They feel good about their job, company, and career.

New products and services are just 10% of the innovation opportunity; 90% of the opportunity lies in systems for working smarter. These include operational systems, production systems, sales and marketing systems, finance and legal systems, strategic alignment systems, idea decision systems, rapid research systems—and the list goes on. But ideas can’t be random. They need to be focused on one of the organization’s strategic priorities.

The way to both vertically and horizontally align an organization to engage in innovation with increased success rates is through Innovation Engineering—a reliable process, grounded in data, backed by academic theory, and validated in real-world practice. The name Innovation Engineering is relevant: Innovation is about ideas that matter relating to new products or services, how we do our work, or even how we ignite social change in our communities. Engineering is about applied science and it details the big-picture leadership principles, plus practical and proven “how to” methods for increasing innovation speed and decreasing risk.

Innovation Engineering employs today’s digital tools and modern work systems that make it possible to create, validate, manufacture, and make real new products, services, and internal ways of working faster than ever before. And given that just 5% to 15% of innovations in large companies are successful, Innovation Engineering builds in feasibility challenges to rapidly validate or improve on ideas.

The following are some of the practices intrinsic to Innovation Engineering:

  1. Develop systems that enable instead of control. The word “system,” especially in connection with innovation, creates a vision of being controlled, constrained, and restricted. That’s not the purpose of Innovation Engineering. It’s a system designed to enable innovation by everyone. W. Edwards Deming, PhD, a renowned systems specialist, observed: “Ninety-four percent of problems are caused by the system—6% by the workers.” In fact, 99% of companies have no system for innovation. A new mind-set is needed to embrace the discovery of ideas, methods, and tools for working smarter.
  2. Find one big idea by first generating a multitude of ideas. The more ideas you create, the more big ideas you end up with. Invite teams of workers to free-associate around a problem or challenge. For example, a business selling Christmas trees, which needed to find a profitable way to dispose of leftover trees, generated a multitude of ideas, such as pine needle tea and pine oil extract. The notion of creating great ideas by first creating lots of unrealistic ones is an expedient approach to innovation.
  3. Ensure innovative ideas are “meaningfully unique.” Innovation Engineering’s definition of innovation is concise: meaningful, in that it has an obvious value to the customer—that is, customers would willingly give up their existing behaviors for it; and unique, in that it’s genuinely original. Meaningfully unique ideas are likely to offer a quantifiable advantage that shows how much better it is vs. the existing alternative.
  4. Resolve potential “death threats.” Key issues that could keep an idea from succeeding, in Innovation Engineering terms—death threats, are analyzed through disciplined systems of discovery—not the old “declare and defend” approach. Death threats are examined by creating “What if?” hypotheses and experiments. Uncovering a death threat leads to open conversation about critical issues without igniting defensiveness. Instead of saying, “Your idea can’t work,” others are taught to say, “There could be a death threat with this idea.” Defining a potential challenge as a hypothetical concern moves it to the less confrontational third person.
  5. Add define and discover phases. Include disciplined front-end phases involving define and discover to get clarity on the entire idea before entering the develop and deliver stages. Innovation Engineering designers have found that adding these phases increases development success by up to 250%. Two big decision points occur before develop and deliver—where the bulk of the investment is made. The define stage involves laying out the entire idea, as opposed to a sequential system of handoffs from marketing to R&D to production and sales. The discover stage involves problem solving to reduce uncertainty and address the project’s death threats.
  6. Recognize that only the patent owner reaps the rewards.The importance of technology ownership is significant. While ideas alone aren’t patentable, the methods or the proofs of innovative ideas are. The U.S. Patent Office found that, on average, wages are 70% higher for those employees who work in intellectual property-intensive industries vs. non-intellectual property-intensive industries. Filing of provisional patents now takes hours, not weeks, and doing so is a no-brainer.

Doug Hall is an inventor, researcher, educator, and craft whiskey maker. He is founder of the Eureka! Ranch, Innovation Engineering Institute and Brain Brew Custom Whisk(e)y. He’s been named one of America’s top innovation experts by Inc. magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Dateline NBC, CNBC, CIO Magazine, and the CBC. His new book, Driving Eureka! Problem Solving with Data Driven Methods & the Innovation Engineering System(Clerisy Press, Oct. 16, 2018) describes how to transform innovation from random acts to a reliable science. Learn more at doughall.com.