It’s easy to say ‘I want my business to be more innovative’ but what does that actually look like in reality. I’ve noticed the same set of characteristics appear time and time again. And although these characteristics do vary by company, industry, and geography, they’re more consistent than you might think.
1. Active opportunity management
New opportunities are actively identified, prioritized/deprioritized and appropriately resourced on an ongoing basis. It’s always clear what is being pursued and why. Opportunity management happens (a) on an ongoing basis as part of leadership meetings/conversations, and (b) during business/strategic planning.
2. Adequate funding of ideas
New ideas cost money to make happen. Funding is therefore set aside in advance to allow for new ideas to be piloted and scaled if successful. If this doesn’t happen, ideas will die in PowerPoint. This funding needs to be sufficient, protected and allocated at the beginning of the year – which means you often won’t know exactly what it will be used for and therefore need to take a leap of innovation faith.
3. Leadership role modeling
Leaders do more than just nod along to innovation. They turn up to meetings, on time and stay to the end. They are active and contribute their ideas and perspectives. And they pay attention to how they behave around fresh thinking, avoiding the default behaviors of judging and decision-making. They inspire possibility and visibly show energy.
4. Stretch goals and a higher purpose
Individuals and teams have goals that cannot be achieved without pushing beyond what has always been done - so by definition they are forced to think differently and innovate. These stretch goals should be attainable but not without challenging current thinking. And if they can also be connected to a higher emotional purpose or cause, this adds extra motivation and ultimate satisfaction when they are reached.
5. External stimulus
The outside can be found on the inside. External provocation, insight and foresight are systematically brought in through a rich and diverse network of partnerships. This knowledge is captured, shared and used on an ongoing basis to inspire and fuel new ideas.
6. Controlled madness
Deliberate use of unbridled expansive thinking where the world is your oyster and anything is possible, combined with smart analysis and rigor. Sniper-like creativity. People should be really clear how and when to give themselves license to push the boundaries and go a bit renegade in their thinking and attitude - and when not to.
7. Up-Down-Left-Right collaboration
Working in small groups with different people is the norm and is how things get done. Levels and silos are put aside in favor of shared ownership of a common issue and solution. This type of collaboration unlocks superior thinking and unlocks energy and creativity in everyone involved. Diversity becomes a genuine advantage versus just a tick in the box.
8. Stories everywhere
If you ask someone what they’ve done recently that’s innovative, they will bore you with example after example. It’s not hard to find evidence, and it goes beyond just product. Anecdotes are told and retold until they become legend, and people strive to do something that’s worthy of becoming part of the narrative. Stories become recognition in themselves.
People are able to see the cracks and acknowledge what needs to be made better. It’s seen as ok to showcase failure. Wins are shared not grabbed, and triumphs feel balanced. Without humility, collaboration and togetherness are tough. With humility comes a sense of togetherness, and that makes innovation and stretch much more easy to do.
10. Room for crazies
It’s ok to stand out from the crowd. It’s ok to be honest about what you did at the weekend. It’s ok to share scary ideas. It’s ok to wear your heart on your sleeve. It’s not ok to judge. If you want to stretch the boundaries with ideas, you have to stretch the boundaries with talent. Tolerance and empathy become important competencies in this environment.