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Innovation is more than a Theme Published: Sunday, July 10, 2011 8:00 am By: Ulises Pabón, Chief Operations Officer

This weekend, MIDA (the association that represents the food industry) has been celebrating its annual convention under the theme “Innovation through Time.”  A month ago, Puerto Rico Manufacturing Association celebrated its annual convention under the theme “Bridge to Innovation and Opportunity.”  MIDA and PRMA are not exceptions.  Innovation seems to be the theme of the decade. 

So, if innovation is in everybody’s agenda, why is it that we see so big a gap between what is being said and what is being done?  If you are among those that find it difficult to move from intent to results in the innovation arena, the following seven questions will guide you in the right direction.

  1. Does everyone in your organization or in your team understand the innovation agenda you are pursuing?  People need to understand and agree on the focus of your innovation effort.  Innovation is a big word; a broad concept.  You need to strike the right balance here.  Too narrow a focus will translate into lost opportunities.  Too wide a focus translates into wasted time and wasted energy.  Define your intent, your interest with respect to where you want to innovate.  Possible focus areas include new products, new services, process innovation, new total solutions, new business models, and new collaboration schemes.
  2. Do people know what to do when they come up with an idea?  Moving an idea from concept to innovation, and more importantly, killing ideas that initially show potential but prove not to be feasible, requires a deliberate process.  Since ideas differ in complexity, the process needs to be flexible enough to allow experimentation with simple ideas and structured enough to channel ideas requiring funding for research and development to the proper forums.
  3. Are you organized properly for innovation?  Your current organization can be your biggest barrier holding your innovation agenda back.  If your innovation agenda is primarily progressive or incremental, your current organizational structure may be fit to address it.  However, if you are pursuing breakthrough innovation, you may need to consider dedicated teams or parallel structures that are divorced from your main stream organization.
  4. Are employees educated in creativity and innovation tools and techniques?  If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail!  Employees that are asked to innovate but that lack the proper tools and techniques will find themselves following ineffective and inefficient paths, becoming frustrated, and will eventually disengage from the innovation effort.  Innovation requires a new set of glasses with which to see the world and a mindset receptive to play and experiment with what it finds.
  5. What role does innovation play in people’s performance evaluation and in your reward systems?  This is an area where you need to tread carefully.  When it comes to creativity and innovation, overemphasizing extrinsic motivators can be counterproductive.  Intrinsic motivators play an important role in promoting and reinforcing behaviors aligned with your creativity and innovation agenda.  Also, most ideas require a multidisciplinary team of people to progress from concept to execution.  Hence, your reward and recognition systems need to take this fact into account.
  6. Are internal “innovation agents” available to help people in their innovation effort?  Pursuing an idea, that at first sight clashes against the company’s history and culture, can be an up-hill battle.  Innovation agents throughout the organization can serve as lubricants in this process.
  7. How big is your budget for innovation?  Innovation requires experimentation; it requires research.  You may need to build a prototype; you may want to launch a pilot.  If it’s a new service you are thinking of, you may need to simulate it to detect nicks and crannies.  In a nutshell, innovating requires resources.  You can’t claim you have a serious intent to pursue innovation if you haven’t budgeted for it.

In summary, innovation is a lot of fun but it is a serious business.  Themes can help communicate an intent but pursuing results in the innovation arena requires considerable effort across a whole range of interdependent dimensions.

Invest some time in reflecting upon your answers to the seven questions above.  As you start to consider these interdependent variables, you’ll be one step closer to developing a comprehensive approach to innovation and one step closer to bridging the gap between intent and results.


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