Keeping the momentum with your innovation efforts
By Rikus Grobler, www.nis.co.na , [email protected] .
In the previous delivery I made the case that innovation is about doing and not only talking about it. It made me think of the Elvis Presley song that goes: “A little less conversation, a little more action, please”. I know Elvis was not talking about innovation necessarily, but you get the drift.
As a side note, Elvis was not only the King of Rock and Roll, in my opinion, he was a great innovator. When Elvis burst onto the music scene he revolutionized what was quite a tame circuit. Can you imagine the resistance he faced when introducing not only his music, but also his dance moves and personal style. I think music lovers around the world (including myself) is grateful that Elvis was fundamentally a man of less conversation and more action and pushed through all the resistance to bring across his flavour of innovation.
Back to innovation in your organisation. I explained that in order to get to innovation action, you have to start small. Taking small steps at first to get going with innovation makes more sense (for a number of reasons) than trying to run the whole marathon in one go.
However, while it is definitely easier to start with small steps, there will still be the risk of your innovation efforts running out of steam and losing momentum, because no matter how small your steps are, it is still about changing existing routines and you will run into resistance and obstacles.
To stick to my running analogy, even if you have to go only two kilometres instead of ten kilometres, lying on the couch still looks more appealing.
When the going gets tough the tough gets going:
Anybody who has ever been involved in trying to implement large organisational change, has probably experienced the “Valley of Despair”. When large change is implemented something like a learning curve happens, but on a much larger scale. This phenomenon is called the “Valley of Despair”. It gets its name from the visual representation in charts and graphs that track productivity and other key metrics enterprise-wide.
The graph starts out with a level or slight positive incline, and then after a while it takes a serious dip as the initiative starts to run into resistance, obstacles and challenges. It takes great effort to “dig” out of the Valley of Despair, but if you push through, the graph reaches the bottom of the curve and then eventually starts to toil slowly upwards again. Just Google “Valley of Despair graph” for a visual of the phenomenon.
So I’ve witnessed the “Valley of Despair” in innovation initiatives as well. When you start an innovation programme, everybody is excited and it is great fun to generate ideas. The front-end of innovation, the idea generation side of innovation, is the “sexy” part of innovation. It is exciting and fun to come up with novel ideas. Who does not like that?
But when it gets to implementation of the ideas, you enter the Valley of Despair and your innovation efforts starts taking a dip. It is that point on your innovation journey where you’ll want to take a deep breath and ask – what happened here? What have we achieved? And, what do we need to do now to keep the momentum, i.e. how do you get out of the Valley of Despair or even better, avoid it completely?
There are many answers to this question, including actions such as to understand what progress you’ve made from where you started, conducting post mortems on failed activities, reminding everyone why innovation is an imperative, etc.
There is nothing wrong with these actions, but I vowed to give you practical “hands on” advice this time around, so here is my advice on the most important thing you can do in your organisation to keep the innovation momentum going:
Develop a checklist to track and manage ideas generated from innovation sessions, meetings, workshops, etc. It doesn’t have to be an expensive system; just something to document ideas, like spreadsheet-, word processing- or mind mapping applications.
I personally like the concept of an “Ideas Board”, just a table on a white board listing, 1. The problem or opportunity; 2. The idea to solve it; 3. Who is responsible; and 4. Due date. Simple, effective and visible. Develop a routine (which is essentially an organisational habit) to hold people accountable to track what is happening to ideas. I have found this to be the most effective way to keep employees “honest” with regards to keeping idea implementation commitments. When you have to report on your budget, you make sure you keep track of every dollar that gets spent, why not apply the same principle for innovation?
Tracking ideas will firstly help with making them visible, and secondly, once you start tracking what happens to ideas, you put metrics around innovation. Innovation metrics is a topic on its own, but as with implementation, start with “simple” metrics that are easy to keep score of, e.g. how many ideas were generated per month and how many ideas were implemented. Once you start measuring something, you start managing it.
You have now gotten off the couch to take the first steps on your innovation journey, and I have shared some advice on how to keep the momentum going. As you gain momentum with your innovation efforts, you will start to notice that more and more ideas start coming in, so next time I will share some advice on how to deal with a lot of ideas coming into the system, and how to identify the best ones to take forward.
I conclude with a quote from Thomas Edison that I have always kept close when things started getting difficult: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time”.