By Tim J. Morton
Innovation drives growth. And growth underlies most business’ objectives. But innovation requires the right environment to fully flourish—an environment which must be cultivated from the top down.
So why do so many companies miss the mark in creating an environment that fosters innovation? These three mistakes are sure to be innovation-killers. Avoiding them puts organizations on the path to true collaboration, where divisions melt, visions meld, ideas churn – and the bottom line burgeons.
As with all good things in life, building and maintaining this innovation incubator takes deliberate work and won’t always be easy, given the myriad constant pressures of running a business. But when leaders keep their eye on the organization’s long-term goals and create a culture to support creativity, innovation flourishes.
Mistake #1: Focusing On Short-Term Goals at The Expense of Supporting a Long-Term Vision
So much of today’s thinking and business decisions are driven by the short-term with pressures from boards and shareholders to show quick progress and profit. But when these pressures drive decisions that don’t support the organization’s overarching mission, a loss of focus and forward momentum often sets in.
The most effective leaders clearly define and articulate the end goal, then break it into doable chunks to show progress along a larger path. This also helps guard against reactionary decisions when surprises pop up (and they will). With the ultimate goal in sight, the next step becomes clear. Big, long-term goals align and inspire employees and shareholders, and unbridle thinking.
Mistake #2: Counting on New Ideas from Teams that Think Alike
Too often, new products move through silo’d departments, handed off from research to design to engineering to marketing. If not navigated fluidly, these transitions hamper collaboration and can fuel conflict, with individual agendas overshadowing end goals.
Savvy organizations deliberately break down silos with “connectors.” Mixing expertise across teams from the beginning of the product development process leverages differences so that they work for, not against, the process. The best fuel for new ideas is building diverse teams from diverse worlds—enabling employees to synthesize ideas collectively and collaborate openly. This breaks down barriers, and creates connectors between the functions that exist in the development process.
Mistake #3: Working Without a Process for Capturing Ideas
New ideas need freedom to build, but they also need structure to fully blossom. Without a process to capture and manage them, ideas have no legs. Don’t let great ideas with potential go to waste by not having a system in place to answer key questions about an idea’s value early on, such as:
An effective process will vary depending on an organization’s goals, culture and make-up, but may include such elements as assessment criteria, methodologies for advancing ideas, and built-in reflection time to question, “Where are we going, why and how?” Which brings us back to #1 – the need for a big goal to drive thinking.
Many of the elements of product development are easily commoditized, yet the true creativity required to turn new ideas into innovative products thrives only with the right culture, set from the top down. And, unlike many other variables, culture is something actually within a leader’s control.
Based in Austin, Tim J. Morton is design director for Product Development Technologies (PDT.com), a global, full-service product development firm that strives to serve clients with diverse teams that think outside the box.
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