Innovation – From idea generation to implementation
In the previous articles I dealt with planning for innovation. Planning for innovation is an important step for innovation, but in this article I want to go back to basics. In the first article in this series, I gave a definition for innovation: “The application of resources to create value for the customer and the enterprise by developing, improving and commercialising new and existing products, processes and services.” This is the long version. Usually when I am in a conversation with someone and it turns to what I do for a living, my answer is based around innovation and then hundred per cent of the time, the next question is “what is innovation?” I cannot go into a detailed academic discussion in these scenarios, so my ready-to-fire answer is always: “The implementation of creative ideas that add value”. It really is that simple. To prove my point I then usually ask a question in the line of “when was the last time you had a great idea?” Then with the second question I prove my point: “What did you do about it”…?
Implementation of ideas
Generating creative ideas is only half of the innovation equation, if the idea does not get implemented, that is all it is, an idea. It has to be implemented and it has to have value to someone in order to deserve the title of innovation. So why then, if it sounds so simple, do organisations find it so difficult to innovate? This is not an easy question to answer! But let me break it up into the two stages, namely generating creative ideas and implementing these ideas. Researchers of innovation are now acknowledging that innovation encompasses both creativity and idea implementation and that each activity is shaped by different personal and contextual forces. Research has found that the suggestion of ideas was more highly related to individual (personal and job) characteristics than group and organisational characteristics; whereas the implementation of ideas was more strongly predicted by group and organisational characteristics.
So let us take a look at the two concepts separately. With regards to creativity, individual creativity has been studied for a long while and by many scholars. Some progress has been made with regards to understanding this phenomenon, but it still remains a challenge to understand when and how does creativity strike in the form of a new, useful idea to solve a problem or exploit an opportunity. That being said, I personally believe that people are inherently creative and the bottleneck in organisational innovation is usually not getting the ideas, but the implementation part.
With regards to implementation, most researchers are of opinion that idea implementation, in contrast to creativity, is primarily a social-political process in organisations. What does this mean? Well basically it means that decisions about implementation of ideas are not based on sound reasoning and logic, but it is rather a function of “human nature”.
But what then are the main factors that influence the implementation of ideas in organisations? Research on this topic is limited, but in an extensive study done by Axtell and others (Shopfloor innovation: Facilitating the suggestion and implementation of ideas, 2000), it was found that the strongest predictors of implementation were support for innovation and the amount of participation in decision making. Thus, conditions where employees are allowed and encouraged to develop new ideas and participate in decisions are most likely to facilitate the actual implementation of ideas. Being “allowed and encouraged to develop new ideas and participate in decisions” is an organisational mind-set, also called the organisational culture or organisational values. So my argument is that organisational culture is still the main driving force of innovation.
I have set the stage for organisational culture being a key determinant of the probability of ideas reaching the implementation stage – which in fact is innovation, so next time I want to focus on creating an organisational culture that fosters innovation. I conclude with a quote from Thomas Edison: “The value of an idea lies in the using of it”.