Assessment.

Just like setting any business strategy, you need to first know where you are now. The creativity/innovation process has three parts that need to be assessed: the input, the transformation process, and the output. The input are your employees. You need to be able to measure the creativity of your current employees, as well as your prospective employees, as part of the  hiring process. Then, you need to measure the transformation process, that turns brilliant employees into a source of creative ideas, and into innovative products, services, processes, and business models. This is the transformation of the corporate climate, team dynamics, and implementation mechanism. Finally, you should measure the output. Are your products objectively innovative? Did the overall level of innovation in the company increase? Is it more innovative than your competitors?

Intervention.

Once you know where you stand, start setting innovation goals. How would you like next year to be relative to this year? How would you like to position your company against competitors? Then focus on changing the  corporate culture, starting with the personal example you give yourself. A climate that allows employees to experiment, fail, and be creative is your goal. Use the 80:20 rule. Spend 100% of the time on 20% of the climate factors that would yield 80% of the improvement in creativity throughout the organization. Make sure you hire creative people by including creativity and attitude assessment in the hiring process for certain positions. Select the right team members and team leaders to assure productive and  creative diversity, and prevent any signs of internal politics and power plays. Finally, continuously provide training, coaching, and team building.

Ideation.

Facilitate ideation workshops regularly. Those sessions are where creative, open minds combine ideas while starting with a clean slate. You are not guaranteed to have create ideas coming out of every ideation session, but at the same time, research showed that for every one successful product market launch, 3,000 raw ideas were generated (of which 2,999 were dropped somewhere along the road). Therefore, the more ideation workshops you hold, the higher the probability that you get the best ideas. Use tools such as IDEO's design thinking, Creative Problem Solving, TRIZ, and others. The more tools you use, the higher the probability you will "attack" a problem from the right angle.

Implementation.

The implementation phase is much more than applying abundance of resources to take a raw idea all the way to market launch. A big part of it is replacing the traditional innovation funnel process with a boundary agreement, and empowering employees to determine which ideas meet the pre-determined criteria to get resources. Even then, only give enough resource, but never too much.

Image Source: Yoram Solomon

 

And once all those steps are done--go back to measure again.

The different phases take time. To perform the assessment phase comprehensively, you may need months, if not more. Intervention is an ongoing effort you should continuously improve, but the effects of it take time to show. Every ideation session takes a month or two to prepare for and summarize. The first ideation session might result in ideas that cannot, and should not be implemented. Finally, the implementation phase takes time too. As you start adding up all those times, you may be discouraged once you realize it will take years before you start seeing the fruit of this work. However, there are two degrees of freedom that you have in implementing the process.

Scope.

Implementing this process in a small company can be relatively easy. However, Fortune 500 companies typically have more than 200 employees. Heck, there are even startups that have more than 200 employees. You don't have to implement it in the entire company at one time. This could be an insurmountable effort. Identify the core team you need to be creative. This could be a small team of 5-8 people. Maybe take 2 or 3 such teams. Not more. This is a much more "affordable" process. Start small. See that it works. Make course corrections, and instead of then forcing it on other business units or groups in the company, simply advertise, socialize, and market this process to others. Let them come to you.

Parallelization.

You have is the ability to implement the 4 phases in parallel, rather than in a sequential manner. Sure, only after you have assessed the organizational culture, team dynamics, individual creativity, and the innovation index will you know exactly what changes need to be made to the implementation phase. And only after you are done with implementing those changes, including personnel changes, and after months (if not years) of training and team building, and after months (if not years) until employees realize that the culture has changed, and feel more free to experiment and innovate, will you have the level of creativity you want. And only then, you begin facilitating ideation sessions, and only after the third or fourth one will you have ideas that are good enough to implement. Don't forget that once you start implementation, it can take months (or years) until you launch the new innovative, game-changing, market-dominating, profit-making product. If you do it completely sequentially, that is. But that's not what I recommend.

You should launch all 4 phases at once. While the assessment phase is not done, start the intervention phase with what you know will work. Start with only a few things. As time goes by, and as you get the results of the assessments, you can start modifying the intervention phase appropriately. You may find that some initiatives were needed--keep these. You may find that others are not needed, or are not within the 20% that have 80% impact. Drop those. Start training, coaching, and building your teams. They will need that either way. Meanwhile, start facilitating ideation sessions. Your employees will not have all the tools in their hands, and may not be as creative as they will be later, but good ideas may still result from those ideation workshops. And if those ideas feel good, start implementing them.

Year 1 projects may not be the most innovative, and will not results from a well implemented creativity and innovation process, but it doesn't mean that they are completely useless. Year 2 projects will benefit from including what you learned from Year 1 assessments in the intervention phase. Year 3 projects will benefit from your employees having more creativity tools in their hands, and yet better climate that will be more supportive of their creativity, and so on. Every year your projects will be more creative, innovative, and powerful.

Published on: Jul 26, 2016
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