Making innovation real
By Rikus Grobler of Namibia Innovation Solutions
I get a lot of questions on how do you make innovation real, so that it is not only an “academic” or “theoretical” concept, i.e. how does it look in practice? Being an innovation scholar, I am always at risk of making innovation too theoretical, but having said that, I firmly believe that all practice have its roots in the theory, but that is probably a discussion for another day… So in this article I want to focus on making innovation tangible in your organisation.
Making Innovation Real
Before going into the detail of making innovation real, I want to revisit the general definition for innovation I prefer: “The implementation of useful ideas that create value”. So I committed to not being academic and theoretical, but I start with a definition? Yes, because every novel idea an organisation implements that creates value in the form of reduced costs or increased income or just making someone’s job easier, is innovation. It will obviously be different for every kind of organisation, and it does not always have to be a new product, it can also be a new way of doing things (process / service innovation) a new way to structure the organisation or a department (administrative innovation) or a new strategy (strategy innovation).
I have told this story before, but it is such a classic example of how a small idea can make a big difference that I want to tell it again: A toothpaste factory had a problem: they sometimes shipped empty boxes, without the tube inside. To resolve the problem, they hired an engineering company to solve the problem. The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor allocated, RFP, third-parties selected, and six months (and $8 million) later they had a fantastic solution. They solved the problem by using high-tech precision scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box would weigh less than it should. The line would stop, and someone had to walk over and yank the defective box out of it, pressing another button when done to re-start the line. However, after three weeks, the factory manager noticed that the bell is not ringing and the lights are not flashing anymore. Puzzled, he walked up to the part of the line where the precision scales were installed. A few feet before the scale, there was a $20 desk fan, blowing the empty boxes off of the belt and into a bin. “Oh, that”, says one of the workers, “One of the guys put it there because he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang”.
So, I want to challenge you to look in your organisation and identify where “real” innovation took place. It is where someone had a useful idea and actually went out and got the desk fan and set it up to solve the problem! I want to start sharing these success stories, so please drop me an e-mail with your example of how innovation happened in your organisation (my contact details are below).
Lastly, a few important things to remember in terms of making innovation real in the organisation: 1. Communicate the innovation imperative. Make sure that your employees understand why they’re innovating in the first place and what it means to the organisation. 2. Demystify innovation. Demonstrate innovation in your organisation by promoting internally when you implement a new innovation. This will provide employees with practical examples to bring their understanding of innovation to life. 3. Make innovation part of everyone’s role. One of the most common pitfalls organisations have when it comes to encouraging employees to innovate is that organisations don’t provide the resources (such as time) to allow them to do so. Therefore, it’s essential to back up your innovative imperative with the structure and resources to allow your employees to experiment with innovation.
Do whatever you can to support one of the most valuable resources in your business – people – to see how innovation is real not only for them, but for the organisation too. Next time I want to discuss the topic of how to “sell” innovation to the organisation. I conclude with a quote from Michael Jordan: “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen”.
About Rikus Grobler
After a career of over a decade in the manufacturing and IT industries, Rikus established a specialist business and management consulting firm (Namibia Innovation Solutions) in Windhoek in 2010. Rikus has an MBA and also holds degrees in Engineering and Law. He is also a certified Project Management Institute (PMI) Project Management Professional (PMP) and he is currently pursuing a PhD degree, focusing on the field of innovation. His passion is corporate innovation and he has consulted in this field for some of the major organisations in Namibia. You can e-mail him at email@example.com or visit his website at www.nis.co.na