Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Developing an Innovation Policy for the Organization

Recently, Ninedots conducted a workshop on Creativity & Innovation for a leading manufacturer of manufacturing equipment in India. This two day workshop was attended by senior managers from sales, finance, marketing, engineering & manufacturing. The objective was to infuse a culture of creativity in the organization so that managers can solve problems and develop innovative solutions to their existing problems.

I won't go into details of the workshop as it might contain confidential information, but there was one thing I would like to bring out from this workshop - i.e., with Ninedots assistance and guidance, the company developed its Innovation Policy. V1.0 ( I call it V1.0 because, the policy is bound to change over a period of time)

If you are reading this blog and if you are working for a company, ask yourself the question: What is our company's innovation policy?

In my experience, most Indian companies and most small & Medium companies all over the world do not have a "Innovation Policy". Companies also do not have a reward mechanism or policy to recognize and reward innovation within their company. Yet most of these companies talk about innovation in their goals or mission or vision statements. The situation in these companies is similar a bunch of kindergarten kids playing soccer - kids are aimlessly kicking the ball around without progressing towards the goal.( See the DVD which comes with Stephen Covey's 8th Habit).

If a company has the word "innovation" anywhere in its their goals or mission or vision statements, then the company needs a innovation policy. The task of developing this policy falls squarely on the top management of the company.

In India, Ninedots conducts workshop on Creativity & Innovation, Innovation Management, IP awareness, IP protection, Problem Solving & Decision making etc. These workshops are very valuable for companies which want to initiate a culture of innovation in their organization. These workshops also helps companies develop an innovation policy - which is best suited for their work culture and business conditions.

Developing an Innovation Policy

Unfortunately, there is no universal innovation policy because the type of innovation in an industry is determined by the nature of the industry, the organization culture, and the maturity of the organization. However there are some common thread in all organizations that can be used to develop the innovation policy. These common threads are:

  1. Encourage Creative Thinking

    Company policies on employee development and people management must encourage people to think creatively. For example, IDEO hires it people based on their creative talents among other skills. Today, companies organize workshops for employees which teaches creative thinking - AT&T, Bell Canada, Fidelity Investments etc., organize creative thinking workshops such as Lateral thinking & Six Thinking Hats from De Bono institute. ( In India, Ninedots conducts workshops in Creativity, Innovation & Six Thinking Hats)

  2. Ear mark a separate time for ideation

    Companies must have a dedicated time for ideation - i.e., time to comeup with ideas. It has been found that people can think & comeup with their best ideas only when they are in a group as verses individual thinking. Having a sperate meeting times for brainstorming or for idea generation is the best way for employees to comeup with new & innovative ideas.

    These ideation meetings must be short and crisp. The meeting leader must set the duration of these meeting in minutes, and the total meeting time should not exceed 30 minutes. It has been found that people comeup with lots of ideas when they are under time pressure. The time pressure forces people to think of new ideas and avoid filtering of ideas even before it is presented.

  3. Treat all ideas for Innovation equally

    In organizations, especially Indian organizations, ideas or proposals coming from a senior manager is given a higher weightage over an idea coming from a junior person - irrespective of the merit of the idea. For innovation to work, all ideas must be treated equally and independently of the originator of the idea. In this way, the idea from a General manager is treated on par with an idea from a Field engineer.

    Treating ideas equally encourages all staff members to be more open with their ideas and this leads to a greater creativity within the organization.

  4. Diversity leads to better quality & more quantity of ideas

    Having a diverse group - i.e., cross functional groups and/or multicultural groups also increases the number of ideas generated during the meetings. Having people from other functional areas allows people to piggyback on other people's ideas. This leads to better ideas and more ideas.

  5. Document all ideas

    Ideas generated during all the ideation meetings must be documented. The ideas generated in these meetings must not be judged - and all ideas must be documented. The rationale for documenting all ideas is that, At the time of idea creation - no idea will be perfect or will have clarity, Most ideas will be vague or fuzzy. So it is difficult to judge the ideas at that time. Moreover one must be open to the concept that there will always be some good things even in a bad idea.

    Documenting all ideas generated during the ideation process is an essential in innovation

  6. Focused thinking

    Ideation meetings work well only when all members in the meeting are focused on a well defined problem statement. Leader of the meeting must define the focus area and communicate the same with all the participants few days before the actual meeting.

    During the meeting, the leader must ensure that all participants are focused and avoid any digression. In case there is any digression, the leader must intervene and bring the group to focus on the issue in hand.

  7. Everyone must participate

    All participants must participate in the ideation meetings. There will be some shy people who may not come out with ideas in the meetings. The leader must encourage and elicit ideas from all participants.

  8. Innovative ideas must be rewarded & recognized

    Participants who come out with innovative ideas must be rewarded. Ideas that were not selected for implementation too must be recognized and documented. It is in human nature to get recognized. Company policy must reflect this to encourage all employees to be innovative.

  9. Nominate an Innovation Champion for every idea accepted for implementation

    Once an idea is accepted for implementation, it will need a business champion who can support the implementation and monitor the progress. People who propose the idea may not have the adequate resources and skills to implement the idea. Therefore it is the duty of the innovation champion to identify the resources and skills needed for the implementation, organize those resources and champion the implementation within the company. Ideally a senior manager must become the innovation champion and he must take the responsibility for its implementation.

  10. All accepted ideas must have a timeline for implementation

    Once an idea is accepted for implementation, it must be tracked with a project plan. Without due diligence, implementation will invariably fail. In most situations, innovative ideas will be vague and will be missing details - this will be discovered only during implementation stage. And at this stage most implementations will bite the dust - as people incharge of implementation will not know how to proceed. Even the person who proposed the original idea may not have all the answers. Under such circumstances, the innovation champion must pursue and not give up, until all options are exhausted. Energy & enthusiasm of the innovation team can take the project forward with several breakthroughs. But there will be times when the project has to be abandoned - when it becomes apparent that the original innovative idea does not have any economical value to the organization. The onus on making this decision is solely on the innovation champion. ( Ninedots conducts workshops on finance for managers which will help participants to learn how to take decisions on innovations based on financial parameters.)

  11. Only the accepted ideas must be implemented.

    Only the accepted ideas must be implemented, other ideas must be documented for future use. People who proposed the ideas must not be discouraged either. Many times people who propose the idea, but if the idea is not accepted, they will continue to work on developing that idea within the company - but under the radar. Such projects which do not have official sanction are called "skunk works" projects. If the organization does not take steps to control & eliminate these skunk works projects, it will have a serious trouble in managing its resources. ( There has been lots of great stories of how various people persevered even after their idea was rejected and how that idea went on to become a big success - 3M's masking tape, Firefox browser, Peer-to-peer networks etc. But from the company's policy point of view, such activities must be discouraged)

Closing Thoughts

Creating a culture of creativity & innovation is a long & arduous process. However, having an innovation policy is the first essential step to encourage innovation within the company. Once the culture of innovation is deeply embedded within the organization, then the written policy for innovation becomes redundant and at times a barrier for innovation. Most innovative companies - such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Intel etc. do not need an innovation policy. For other companies which are now embarking on innovation path, having the policy is the first necessary step.

In India, Ninedots consults to companies to develop innovation policies, conducts workshops to imbibe a culture of innovation & creativity. For more details contact Ninedots.

1 comment:

Prabodh Sirur said...

I read your blog on Innovation Policy accidentally. This is the first place where I found an organised note on implementing innovation. Congratulations.

BTW are you using any of the De Bono techniques during implementation? Worth checking if you have not tried.

Keep it up.