Every organization, regardless of which industry they are in or cater to, wants to innovate….yes, needs to innovate. However, innovation is often thought of as that “one magical product or service that all our customers will love and can’t have enough of”. Basically, a cash cow. While there is nothing wrong in that aspiration, boxing the focus on innovation into that limited outcome is mostly detrimental. In my experience, innovation is more cultural in nature and running it as an organizational program or a process, seldom yields results. The spirit of innovation can flow naturally by getting a couple of things right – (a) the right champion(s) who can serve as role models and (b) encourage wild ideas regardless of immediate business relevance.
A champion is ideally someone who the team members identify with. S/he should have a mindset of straying from the trodden path and tasted both successes and failures conceiving innovative features / processes / products; the kind of person who is easily able to step into the shoes of the user/customer and visualize new ways of doing things that no one had thought of . Often, s/he is also a keen student of any new technology or path-breaking advances in the relevant field and quick to experiment and push for adoption. What such champions do, is demonstrate to their co-workers that to experiment, to push the boundaries, to prod the status quo, are all good things to do and even rewarding for the business.
Every so often, I have come across instances where a wild new idea dies a quick un-ceremonial death because managers/stakeholders deem it as something that has no “immediate business relevance”. But, what dies along with that is the temperament of thinking differently…the diversity of thought. Done enough number of times, it can convert a vibrant team into a set of drones with uniform thought processes. This is fatal to any business. So, does this mean that every new idea must be invested upon regardless of how far from reality it is? Clearly not, but there can be a happy middle path where each new idea is given its own swim lane and those that don’t have what it takes, will eventually sink. This could mean encouraging more exploration without necessarily investing. Eventually, difference-makers will surface from such a culture and the possibility of something absolutely disruptive emerging, is always tantalizing.