Most of our clients are linchpins—individuals who are single-handedly fighting the current to steer their company’s ship to a more lucrative and lasting future.
So when I stumbled upon this presentation slide, it struck a chord with me. Innovation requires freedom to explore, inefficiency, risk, and, of course, room for failure. This condition goes against what many organizations are designed to prioritize.
Despite the hurdles in front of them, we’ve witnessed our clients prioritize innovation and sway their companies to do so as well.
Here’s what our clients are doing to get their companies to prioritize innovation:
1. Taking small steps
We recently teamed up with one of our clients to run an innovation brainstorm. Prior to the brainstorm, each participant was tasked with interviewing a few users to gain an understanding of their pain points. The interviews were casual, the users were friends and family, and the pool was small, but this was the first time their brainstorms centered on understanding the user.
Our client took this first small step down a big new path.
For the first time, our client was able to get his team to adopt a strategic innovation approach.
The next brainstorm incorporated preliminary interviews, plus tools and frameworks to make ideation more fruitful.
The next brainstorm was fueled with ethnographies that sold the internal team on the power of observing users firsthand.
Instead of overhauling their organization all at once, the individuals who had the most success converted their organizations one small step at a time, increasing the size of their move with each step.
Don’t get caught up in doing innovation activities “perfectly”—that’ll keep you from doing anything at all. Instead, find one small thing you can do better, and then do it.
2. Collecting Allies
Don’t be a lone wolf. You will not only be able to do more with a team but also have a much better chance of earning your organization’s faith if you are surrounded by a pack of believers.
As you start on the gradual path of improvement, look around and take note of who is interested in what you’re doing and willing to help the cause. Invite those people in and involve them along the way. Eventually, your pack of believers will become the majority.
Our clients have found that, at the start, they don’t really have internal allies. With a company that has been designed to prioritize product development over innovation, it’s hard to acquire the resources necessary to explore and plan for the distant future. That’s why they’ve hired us. We’re their first innovation allies, and we’ve had the privilege of watching their pack of believers collect around us.
Do what you can to collect and foster allies.
3. Turning results into proof
Once you’ve done the work, don’t stop there. The work and results of a project don’t magically form a convincing case study. You have to do that. You have to incorporate your innovation efforts in a story that will sway your stakeholders.
Remember, the biggest threat to innovation is politics and culture. So the most critical part of your job will be to convince stakeholders that your innovation efforts are worth investing in. We do this by showing them a return on investment.
We illustrate ROI by translating our results into proof that we've created value. That might be demonstrating how your innovation efforts satisfied your company’s objectives. It could be showcasing a customer testimonial that expresses demand for an idea your innovation efforts developed. It might be taking your stakeholders on a journey to show them how your process guided your project from nothing to a value-creating asset—whatever proof your stakeholders need to become believers of innovation.
Prove to your stakeholders that your innovation efforts are generating a return on their investment.
4. Not quitting
Big ships take time and effort to turn. Don’t quit early!
Your first and maybe even third or tenth innovation effort may go unnoticed—or even worse, get shot down. But with each attempt you are given the opportunity to learn, improve, and demonstrate results.
If you can avoid quitting, you’ll slowly cause that ship to turn, and the momentum will build.
Keep pulling on that wheel.
You’re the lynchpin your company needs to survive. The problem is that your stakeholders are not privy to the power and necessity of innovation.
My hope is that through small steps, a collection of allies, proof of ROI, and your relentless efforts, you’ll be able to lead the way for your company, just like our clients are.