The future is unpredictable, but one thing is certain: innovation is a necessity. We face new challenges every day due to changing circumstances and (un)fortunately very few things are immune to that. It becomes harder to solve these challenges all by ourselves or through a dedicated unit in the organization. With every day that passes, the need for Collaborative Innovation increases. We truly need our greatest agents in the field to solve the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Being in an operational comfort zone paralyses innovation. This is something that became crystal clear for many organizations during the past two pandemic years. Many were not prepared for the unexpected. Eventually some were able to turn this necessity into an asset while others remained flabbergasted (I have always wanted to use that word 🤩). The biggest takeaway here is that you must be able to act fast, and to innovate fast. In VUCA times you must be able to skip the heavy protocols. So, why would you introduce them in the first place? Agile, Collaborative innovation should become the modus operandi.
Hold your Aston Martins! In order to succeed, a few crucial elements need to be in place. As Andreas Sjöström explains here, there are quite some cultural innovation killers to be wary of.
Businesses must take the necessary steps to remove the impediments to innovation and create a collaborative environment.Andreas Sjöström
Removing those impediments can be done by embracing the below elements. The whole of these elements is what we like to call the “License to Innovate”. Without them your efforts will not be sustainable. The “License to innovate” enables people to innovate agile, collaboratively and autonomously. It allows every participant to do whatever they must to turn their idea into a success. It is time to entrust your best agents with a mission and I am sure that they will do whatever they deem necessary in order to succeed. Are you ready to act accordingly, Mr. Bond?
License to innovate (collaboratively)
As mentioned earlier, there are several things that need to be in place to make your Collaborative Innovation program successful. Read on to learn what is needed to give participants a true License to Innovate.
#1 – A killer innovation team
A successful Collaborative Innovation program stands or falls with the innovation team that is driving it. Therefore this is a first crucial element to have in place in order to hand out a License to Innovate.
We have summarized the 4 most crucial characteristics to turn an innovation team in a killer innovation team for you.
- A variety of skills and separation of concerns
Having multiple skills and personalities in your team increases your success rate. For an innovation team this means having a great variety of skills such as: a strong communicator, a process person, someone with organizational knowledge – business & strategic, a mix of optimistic people and realistic people.
- Trust from the management
It is quite obvious that this team needs enough autonomy to pursue ideas and push them forward in the organization. I hear you, this is easier said than done. We notice that innovation teams often enmesh in a tangle of company politics, while their only focus should be getting tons of ideas and turning them into a success. to create value for their organization.
- Clear Goals
This one is actually strongly related to the trust from the management. An innovation team cannot work autonomously if it doesn’t know its targets. Unfortunately “As much as possible” is not a valid innovation KPI. Goals need to be reachable, knowing what must and can be achieved. This will prevent disappointment in many levels of the organization. It’s the only way you can measure your progress and whether your efforts are delivering value.
In fact, clear goals come with another perk. In Collaborative Innovation campaigns we notice the biggest spike in engagement when we say something like “Come on, only 10 ideas to reach our target”. That is most often the point where your Collaborative Innovation community goes crazy and numbers go through the roof.
- Strong connection with the business
At some point, someone will definitely ask you what value you are delivering with your Collaborative Innovation program. When you get that question, they are almost always referring to actual dollars. Positive implications such as boosted employee engagement are often hard to translate to dollars even when the added value for you is crystal clear. Therefore, having a strong connection with the business and solving their challenges is one aspect that your Collaborative Innovation program should envision if you want to keep it alive.
One could argue that if you don’t have this in place you shouldn’t even be considering to launch a Collaborative Innovation program. Because, if you don’t even empower the people you entrust with the mission of rolling out a Collaborative Innovation program, how can you possibly expect that people will simply participate?
#2 – Giving ideas their best chance
One of the top reasons Collaborative Innovation programs are perceived as a failure, and even are put to an end, is the following: At first many ideas are collected, but not executed and left without any feedback. Participants feel abandoned and stop caring. As a result they stop contributing. Each time it is harder to find new and desired ideas.
The solution to giving ideas their best chance is two-fold:
- Providing them with constructive feedback and
- Ensuring that they have a fair chance to be executed.
The best thing you can do, obviously, is managing the expectations upfront. You do this by defining the different criteria an idea needs to meet to be executed and by having a business sponsor that has agreed to take those ideas under his/her wings when they are qualified.
But what do you do with all those other great ideas you collected? An essential part of the License to Innovate is the possibility – and willingness – to execute ideas.
To get you started, we have listed some quick ideas on what you can do to get those ideas implemented:
- Put them on an Idea Backlog and organize a Hackathon
- 80/20 rule – People can work on their own innovative ideas for 20% of their time
- ShipIt Days (as introduced by Atlassian)
- Sandbox Fund (as introduced by MIT)
- Innovation Missions – allow people to join other people’s ideas in free time or in between projects. Here you can ofcourse also apply the 80/20 rule for time being spent.
- Business Sponsor Applications/Idea Bidding
Obviously, when an idea is good I am sure that you’ll find the necessary resources to get it done.
Ideally, how ideas can find the necessary resources for implementation, is made transparent in your innovation process. It is even better when this is supported by your Collaborative Innovation platform. But the most important part to obtain a License to Innovate remains that ideas get an actual chance of being implemented.
#3 – License to fail (fast)
Another crucial aspect to hand out a License to Innovate is allowing people to fail, not to fail big and lose a lot of money, but starting by accepting that failure is part of invention.
You might have heard before that some of the biggest innovations have been discovered by mistake. Some well-known examples are: Post-it notes, Penicillin and the Pace Maker. Here it is important to note that it is not failure itself that leads to innovation, but rather how you deal with it. In many of the popular cases people could have thrown the experiment straight into the bin, but instead they saw new benefits in it.
Serendipity, or the willingness to accept that what is found is not necessarily what was being looked for, is a necessary mindset to allow your Collaborative Innovation community to learn and grow.
We have only truly failed when we haven’t learned
Unfortunately, sometimes we cannot accept what is found and we simply end up with failure. So, what must we do then? How does one embrace failure?
First of all, one must accept that it is a failure and understand why. Here, it is crucial that this lesson also gets to the people who participated in the innovation. How? By providing them with constructive feedback.
Secondly, we must adopt a fail-fast approach. Embracing failure is achieved by implementing a fail-fast innovation process and more importantly, by making this transparent to your Collaborative Innovation community. By implementing early reviews and allowing feedback in the early stages – for example right after the idea has been submitted – you increase the success rate of your idea. When an idea isn’t that great, you’ll know early on and you prevent waste of resources. I hear you thinking “But, what if an idea is killed before it can explore its true potential?”. True, that could be a risk. But if an idea is really good, it will survive, trust me 😊
Finally, I want to stretch once more the importance of honest feedback. Your process might be fantastic and allowing for failure, but your Collaborative Innovation initiative stands or falls with how you deliver feedback. If you are afraid to tell no – and you might end up not doing it – you shouldn’t be asking for ideas at all. In the end it is better to kill a 1000 ideas, than to not have any at all because you are afraid of disappointing people.
Fear of Failure
We often get the question if anonymous idea submission is possible. This triggers an immediate concern about the company culture, one where people don’t dare to submit their ideas because they think failing is not allowed and they’ll be judged for that.
We do not recommend to operate in the dark and to hide ideas for others because you will miss out on one of the most important things to turn a simple idea into a successful project: feedback. One popular approach we maintain is to keep ideas or user information hidden until a first success has been booked. Another commonly used approach is to assign an idea caretaker – and making this clear upfront – so that your employees feel supported even before their idea is shared.
Whatever you do, don’t let fear of failure hold you back to go on a Collaborative Innovation mission.
In brief, the License to Innovate is not a license, but a set of crucial elements that your organization should have in place and that are accessible by your innovators. First, it is about having a strong, multi-disciplined innovation team and allowing them to do their thing, transcending company politics. Secondly, it is about giving ideas their best chance and implementing manners to do so when you are tight on resources (hellooo, your competitors are too, but that’s not holding them back, is it?). And finally, it’s about a transparent innovation process that embraces failure in the early stages. If you are using a Collaborative Innovation platform, it is recommended that your company’s License to Innovate is transparent and understandable. Only then will you be able to leverage its power.
Good luck, Mr. Bond. 🤵