How to inspire innovation in a corporate environment

A culture of innovation can’t thrive by itself when it has to go up against the typical high-performance corporate environment.

Written by Morten Benn
June 23rd, 2021

There, we said it.

It might not be what you want to hear, given that innovation is what so many enterprises aspire to. However, whether you’re scoping out a potential digital transformation initiative or brainstorming new and disruptive product ideas, innovation is often at odds with traditional corporate culture. Usually, the risk of innovation simply does not jive with the conventional model of fixed quarterly targets and extensive risk management. 

Indeed, in a survey of UK business leaders by PA Consulting, 40% feared the failure of new and disruptive ideas, which leads them to abandon these initiatives before they ever get off the ground.

For many companies, the solution is to create an innovation lab, where employees are free to think out of the box and identify new ways of meeting the market’s needs. Such a Lab would be separate from the rest of the pack, unbound by the usual corporate expectations. They’d be allowed to test new ideas and chase after risky endeavours that might otherwise have been denied or would have required a lengthy bureaucratic approval process.

On the other hand, it’s possible for these corporate innovation labs to have too much freedom, without the temperance of a mature corporate management structure and long-term objectives to guide them. These labs may end up a case study in innovation theatre, where they haphazardly throw ideas on a wall and see what sticks, without truly understanding how these ideas need a corporate  backing convincing the executives who have the resources,  that they  address attractive market needs or business goals and that it’s possible to realise them without breaking the bank.

This is especially problematic if the core business enters a slump—in this case, an innovation lab could find itself with nothing useful in the pipeline if it was left to its own devices. It’s important, for the long term health of the Lab, to have a pipeline of ideas that are verified, and ready for investment in scaling.

So how do you develop and cultivate your ideas in a culture of innovation while managing to occupy the happy medium between flat hierarchy brainstorming and corporate stability? 

In this article, we look at how to help foster this culture of innovation in a way that allows ideas to grow, while ultimately keeping them on a path that’s good for business.

 

1. Skip the brainstorming and employ a structured idea generation process

This might seem counterintuitive—isn’t brainstorming the lifeblood of a fast-paced and innovative environment?

However, more and more companies are moving away from brainstorming in the traditional sense. Throughout the years, study after study has shown that this time-constrained, anything-goes model of ideation can yield many negative results.

For example, all the way back in 1958, a study at Yale showed that brainstorming in a group yielded half as many ideas as just working solo. Much more recently, in 2008, a professor at Harvard Business School showed that time pressure causes people to be less creative.

In order to refine your idea generation, it’s best to take a page from the corporate playbook and employ a more structured model, with key goals, targets, and leadership at its core.

One great way to do this is through corporate incubation, where business leadership meets with innovation teams regularly to involve them in the decision-making process, get feedback, and continuously test and validate ideas.

By creating short, fixed-interval iteration cycles, agreeing on tools and testing methodologies, and setting specific requirements for every idea, you can ensure that your ideas develop into mature, workable concepts, ready for entry into the product development pipeline. Meanwhile, you also ensure that your innovation spaces are still separate enough from the core business that they’re not stifled by being put under the magnifying glass too often.

 

2. Involve everyone in the innovation of your business 

One of the best ways to create a culture of innovation is to make sure that everyone is a part of it. That way, leadership, middle management, and the rest of the workforce can all be trained to improve their ability to innovate.

A great way to do this is through an innovation challenge, during which every level of the company participates in ideation and project planning. These types of challenges help align teams around a particular innovation target and illustrate how ideas can be matured with the help of every stakeholder. 

Innovation challenges not only inspire a culture of innovation but also generate real, actionable ideas that can reveal new business opportunities. By demonstrating the real-world benefits of innovation, they can help promote its value to the company.

 

3. Develop innovation as a continuous mindset, not a fixed goal

In the short term, you might be able to get away with thinking of innovation as a way to improve your revenue targets. But in the long run, the most effective way to harness the power of innovation is to weave it into your culture over time.

Innovation can’t just be seen as a separate concept that “turns on” whenever you need ideas. It’s a muscle that needs training. In its best form, it’s a culture of continuous improvement that encourages the constant evaluation of old processes, while also rewarding new and improved ways of doing things. It’s a curiosity, that searches for new opportunities, new markets, new offerings.

You need an innovation ecosystem to get this culture up and running. To do this, you need people who can determine how your current corporate culture supports innovation and identify areas of improvement. You also need to create roadmaps with clearly defined and measurable goals that are geared towards strengthening your innovation framework.

 

4. Support a culture of innovation with the right tools

Innovation itself is constantly evolving, and you need the right digital tools to stay ahead of the curve.

One of the best investments corporations can make to support this is an innovation platform that provides a collaborative workflow, a place to go to that provides help and guidance to your teams, in creating and giving feedback to ideas, and develops clear evaluation criteria for ideas. With that, you are able to have a credible overview of the stage of the ideas in the corporation. You know, the ideas that have been market validated, where the technology is ready and where the corporation could earn money.  

These platforms can also help you track the progress of your innovation initiatives and get a bird’s-eye view of each idea’s performance. This way, you can make strategic decisions that involve all of your innovation arms and help them stay on track towards your goals.

 

Conclusion

Innovation isn’t a monolithic practice that exists separately from your core business. It’s a complementary aspect of a continuously improving corporate machine, and it needs the right cultivation and environment to support the development of ideas.

However, over time, innovation should eventually evolve into a key part of how you work, and that means investing in creating that culture of innovation in your business. You can achieve this by taking the right approach to innovation and investing in the right platform to track corporate innovation initiatives. 

Nosco can help you out on both fronts. We offer various consultancy services that can help you introduce and foster innovation in your company and organise events and campaigns that can provide you with new opportunities. We also have a complete digital innovation platform that supports all your idea generation, evaluation, and collaboration needs.

Innovation is a team effort—let us back you up. E-mail us or schedule a call and let’s work together to jumpstart innovation in your company.