Taking Innovation out of the lab: 10 tenets to build a culture of open innovation

The custodians of corporate innovation have traditionally been a select few and ‘elite’, tucked away in innovation labs with job descriptions to think out-of-the-box, develop proofs of concepts and game changing solutions. Often these are meant to be long-term visionary thinkers entrusted with anticipating and preparing for the future ten years and beyond. These initiatives generally demand time, incubation and deeper levels of study and research.

However, with dynamic market forces at play there is also an urgent need for innovation in the here-and-now, at the grassroot levels, to enhance an organisation’s capacity to manoeuvre and adapt to this fast-changing environment. The ability to anticipate, challenge critically, flex and respond creatively without the strappings of a lab.

In my personal experience, it is the purposeful nurturing and channelling of the latent potential of the larger workforce that creates the differentiated value organisations need to remain relevant and competitive in today’s dynamic environment.

With the ever changing and evolving needs of a more conscious and aware consumer, organizations are trying to find their own unique ways to constantly innovate to meet these demands. To stay ahead of the curve in the most efficient way. The corporate ecosystem is further challenged with high turmoil – intense competition, reducing margins, a dynamic workforce, distributed growth, disruptive business and operating models, rapid technology advancements and tightening regulatory environments.

In this state of flux, perfection is a myth, all elusive. As organizations clamber to reach this esoteric state, the world has changed. The bar is different, the equilibrium stands challenged and the chase for yet another new normal begins. At the very heart of this constant unrest lies the untapped power of continuous innovation.

It is evident that organizations that have purposefully focused on the creation of an open, curious and nimble culture have developed an innate capacity to be more decisive and effective in catering to business demands. This edge lies in their propensity to harness the full power of their workforce. To bubble up and connect the brightest ideas from the shop-floor stemming from a keen insight into the nuts and bolts of the organization. This dormant potential is often understated, overlooked and remains largely untapped.

It is time to define the next tier of innovation, outside of the sacred labs and democratize it into a mass movement. At the outset, this might sound radical and somewhat chaotic, but if approached in a mindful fashion it can become compelling gamechanger.

Orchestrated systematically, once this collective power starts manifesting, it becomes the most coveted, prized possession of an organization that is hard to replicate. Conversely, if not set up and executed well, it has the danger of creating confusion and chaos and potential derailment.

With this backdrop, how does an organization go about embedding this culture of innovation in its DNA? How does it enable and facilitate this purpose in a simple, speedy, and sustainable manner?

Here are 10 key tenets to be mindful of while chartering this journey.

  1. Sponsor, walk the talk:Set the stage with a clear shared vision, define accountability and impact measures, identify champions, institute incentives and rewards to motivate desired behaviours. And most importantly, walk the talk.
  2. Develop snowballs:Identify high energy, passionate evangelists who play the role of opinion leaders, coaches, and mentors to help the spirit gradually snowball into a self-sustaining culture.
  3. Build the pillars, brick by brick– Build systems and structures, define processes, leverage technology and external partnerships to channelize ideas and track impact. Themes for improvement, ideation workshops, repository of benchmarks, replication forums, social working groups to spar and challenge each other, gamification and social events to infuse energy and fun, governance and reporting mechanisms etc.
  4. Work on a360 degree axis : Make it inclusive and relevant, transcending cultures, geographies and levels in the organisation. Develop a common language and standardize communication and messaging.
  5. Grab the low hanging fruit: Make choices. Assess a few high impact areas that can be improved fairly quickly with relatively less resources. Showcase these quick wins to generate trust and buy-in.
  6. Shine the spotlight– Make it visible, communicate and celebrate. Link input to impact, create a buzz with compelling stories, announce early bird Oscars.
  7. Keep an ear to the ground– Create forums for discussion and feedback, be open to listen and adapt and incorporate feedback.
  8. Don’t shoot the messenger– Institute an open-door policy to surface issues and opportunities, encourage transparent dialogue and discussion, de-link improvement ideas with performance to make it objective and unemotional.
  9. Ship it, everyday– Start now, practice, learn, build. Keep it simple and relevant. Don’t seek perfection. Make mistakes but keep shipping.
  10. Anchor it, make it stick– Culture will not build overnight. It needs continuous, consistent impetus to reinforce and deeply embed desired behaviours. Make it part of the goals and incentive payout schemes, keep it updated and relevant.

Systematic empowerment of the workforce to go beyond, not only creates a unique non-replicable culture but also a virtuous cycle of attracting the best talent and driving superlative customer centricity.


Image by Marc Sendra Martorell on Unsplash 

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