The thought of spending time brainstorming new ideas, sketching out product features or debating the merits of an improved process seems like a luxury we can’t afford right now. In truth, the process of innovation is more essential than ever.
Think about it — innovation is about finding value in doing things better or differently. And right now, every company needs to find ways to do both. Sometimes that means making rapid changes to do the same things in a new way, like supporting remote workers at home. In other cases, companies are turning their business models upside down to better serve customers and develop new revenue streams. Innovation, critical to the adaptation process, isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.
Whether we’re innovating because we want to or because we have to, innovation is not something that happens organically. What Thomas Edison said about genius applies equally to innovation: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Innovation must be pursued with purpose and discipline.
One reason we must apply constant effort to innovation is to overcome the organizational inertia that blocks our attempts to improve and change. Innovation means challenging old habits and replacing them with new (and better) ones. That takes work.
BEANS for breakthroughs
So, what can a company do to boost its ability to innovate at this critical time? What must we do to prepare the company, its leadership and its employees to feel free to share ideas — both practical and radical — that can help us answer the challenges we face today?
This reminded me of a Harvard Business Review webinar, sponsored by DXC Technology and led by innovation expert Scott D. Anthony. In this session, Anthony offers some ideas to help companies improve their ability to innovate, using a framework he calls BEANs (behavior enablers, artifacts and nudges).
The idea is that the behavior enablers encourage us to develop new, beneficial habits, and the artifacts and nudges help us to reinforce the new behavior. BEANs are simple interventions that a team can use to help break through some of the most common barriers to innovation. They can be used in many different processes — not just meetings — and they’re designed to be fun and easy to track.
Anthony’s webinar and his published work document dozens of BEANs, including ideas like Adobe’s Kickbox. This BEAN is a self-contained kit that employees can apply for. The Kickbox encourages experimentation and includes DIY innovation training and a $1,000 gift card to try out a new idea. Another BEAN example is the “culture canvas,” a one-page poster cocreated by a team. It clarifies what the team is, what its members are trying to do, and what is allowed and not allowed in the way the team works. Team members even put pictures and signatures on the poster to demonstrate their commitment.
Make space, make time
There are a number of other things we can do to organize and spur innovation. For example, it’s important to give room for people to come up with brilliant ideas. That could mean creating a virtual space such as a forum or simply reserving time specifically dedicated to innovation. Google is well known for its practice of allowing employees time to pursue their own ideas and interests, designating 70 percent of their time for work while reserving 20 percent for work-improvement ideas and 10 percent for experiments and pet projects — another BEAN example!
We can quickly become enamored with an idea, but in the innovation life cycle there is a long distance from inspiration to implementation. We can strengthen ideas by creating more ways to share them with others. Different perspectives will challenge an idea and help make it better.
Get outside inspiration
Speaking of different perspectives, different inputs can help as well. Outside stimuli in the form of customer feedback, market insights, analytics and input from partners, vendors, suppliers and even competitors can help us understand how our environment and markets are changing and what we must do to respond.
In ordinary times, innovation is essential to help us identify new opportunities and improve our service to customers. In extraordinary times like the present, rapid innovation and adaptation are essential not just to our prosperity but to our survival. That’s why it’s all the more important to make our innovation processes as fruitful and successful as possible.