10 Rules of Thumb for I.N.N.O.V.A.T.I.O.N. in Your Company

By Anne Orban, M.Ed., NPDP

Initiate innovation from senior management

Nominate an innovation project leader and core team

Negotiate a specific timeframe, deliverables and seed budget for innovation project

Operate in the outside world as well as throughout the company

Violate business-as-usual processes

Activate focus on all ways to serve the client better

Treat all ideas as worthy

Invent at the intersection of technology and trends

Organize so company can embrace new product concepts as if they were the next logical things to do

Never forget to celebrate along the way


Initiate innovation from senior management.

Senior management has two key roles in creating the structure for innovation. They must believe that innovation is integral to the strategic direction of the company and develop a business model to take the company there. In this way senior management provides a platform for the innovation culture to grow.  Senior management must learn to tell stories and create folklore around innovation and actively counteract the ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome.   Senior management must also provide high cover. They must help the various components of the company to cultivate synergies with innovation.

Nominate an innovation team leader and core team.

A project-focused team to champion innovation works best when it becomes multi-disciplinary not just inter-disciplinary.  All members need a good grasp of business and the company’s business and an understanding of how to write a business plan as well as cultivating creative problem solving process skills to build onto the competencies and skills specific to the content of an innovation project. It is recommended that, unless the team is a dedicated team that core team members give up some of their current responsibilities to allow for sufficient time for the innovation project.  It should be understood that team members will rotate off after a specific period of time or when they want to pursue development of a specific new product concept.

Negotiate a charter for the innovation team with specific time frame, deliverables, and seed budget.

The innovation team’s deliverables should be clarified in a team charter that describes the problem/opportunity to be solved, expected benefits, modus operandi, measures & foundations of success, any dependencies, stakeholders, other assumptions and risks and time line.  Deliverables should also include a hand-off process.  The company should provide a seed budget and support innovation team salaries.

Operate in the outside world and throughout the company.

The innovation team should go out into the world with ‘fresh eyes’ and conduct a range of ethnographic research activities – observing, listening, and learning from the daily lives of consumers and from experts and futurists.  The innovation team must also explore the resources within the company with ‘fresh eyes’.

Violate business-as-usual processes.

Use technology innovatively as a tool to pull in new perspectives and conduct productive meetings from multiple locations.  Allow team to co-locate and to create an innovation space that is uniquely theirs. Facilitate humor, share it and celebrate it.

Activate focus on all ways to serve the client better.

Rarely do new product/service platforms emerge easily. The team must always focus on ways to serve the customer better and challenge business-as-usual.  Be prepared to dig around and play with customer connections.

Treat all ideas as worthy.

Quantity equals quality. Use play to understand how the intuitive brain works and be sure to build in sufficient soak time. Be rigorous about application of a focused invention process.   Establish discipline around processing data to capture value from the data gathering effort.

Invent at the intersection of the customer needs, technology & trends.

Develop a three dimensional matrix that includes the customer connection, the technological trajectory, and multiple perspectives on the future.  Invent at these intersections.

Organize to get the company to embrace concepts as if they were the next logical things to do.

Communicate up, across and down. Involve the whole company in the culture of innovation in useful ways.  Record the milestones along the way and broadcast them in language that is understandable to all audiences.

Never forget to celebrate along the way and at the end.

Team leadership must recognize when a milestone has been reached and celebrate that success. Celebration is essential to teamness and to negotiating the white water of innovation.. Starting down the road to innovation is a leap of faith. Succeeding at innovation requires following these innovation rules of thumb.

 Originally Published 2001

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