Innovation is complex and difficult — but one thing about it is not.
What’s quite simple about innovation is that projects are what make innovation real.
The following concepts, frameworks, approaches, etc. are Not Innovation. Unless they are in the context of an actual project.
- Thinking about things is not innovation
- Having beers and kicking ideas around are not innovation
- Brainstorming sessions are not innovation
- Idea Campaigns are not innovation
- Guided visualizations are not innovation
- Design Thinking is not innovation
- Creative Problem Solving is not innovation
- DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats are not innovation
- Lean is not innovation
- Prototyping is not innovation
- Crowd sourcing or Open innovation are not innovation
- TQM and Six Sigma are not innovation
- Defining an innovation process is not innovation
- Training is not innovation
- Measuring your organizational culture is not innovation
- Hiring a new Innovation Director is not innovation
- Market research is not innovation
- Big Data is not innovation
- Metrics are not innovation
- Trend radars are not innovation
- Understanding best practices in innovation are not innovation
There is only one thing that changes culture and leads to actual innovation. That thing is innovation projects.
The concepts I mention in the bullet list above can, and should, be part of innovation. Indeed, some of them are essential, others are helpful, and all of them have their place. A specific approach done well can make a big difference in the effectiveness of innovation efforts. But they are all support functions, they are all useless unless they are in the context of a project. They can actually prevent innovation if they are not in the context of a project.
If you really want innovation at your organization, you need to start doing projects. Then, keep doing them. Some will fail. Some will succeed. Some projects will be authorized and mandated, some will not be. Some projects will be inside a well defined framework and some will be flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. Whatever. Learn as you go and use the lovely techniques and concepts that best fit your organization. Don’t get me wrong, you should know about all those concepts listed. Knowing best practices means you can go beyond them and create something unique.
If you want proof of this idea that it’s all about projects just see what Min Basadur, Edwards Demming, and Joseph Juran say about how to innovate and change and improvement in organizational culture. Those experts are all about projects. The proof is out there, and, it’s obvious isn’t it?
Leaders, CEO’s just keep it simple. Innovation is about Projects.
Ask your people if they are doing projects. If they are, ask how they’re going. If they’re not doing projects, ask why not? You may find the answer is you. You may be the reason no projects are happening. You have have refused to support projects or ignored the results of projects. You may have communicated, in some way, that you want folks to focus on operations or other things. Leaders, if you provide smart people with a mandate to do projects, and task them to get started, you’re doing your job. Monitor progress of the project cycles and expect to get pitched on various ideas.
If your team is not pitching you on new ideas they want to take to market or implementation, and fairly often, you’ve got a problem. It means that they don’t believe they can do innovation, it means they don’t believe they’ll be supported. Let them know you want to hear pitches. Let them know you want an on-going cycle of innovation projects. Then adjust the process as you go.
It’s really not that hard.