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Innovation Tools: Enablers or Derailers? 4 Easy Steps to Keeping It on the Rails

Published By Carrie Nauyalis

“Innovate or Die.” It’s the current battle cry for businesses trying to get or stay ahead of the competition and remain viable in the market. But how do you avoid innovation for innovation’s sake, and instead drive measurable business results through innovation tools and processes?

innovation tools
Birds of a Feather Innovation Leaders Workshop

I learned the answer to that question (and more) at the Birds of a Feather Innovation Leaders Workshop in Chicago a few weeks ago. The event was sponsored by Brightidea and hosted on the Kraft campus. The speakers were great and I especially appreciated their willingness to share what did and did not work in their innovation endeavors. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version in four easy steps:

  1. Prepare to Innovate!
    Often companies jump right into idea collection with their employees and customers, desperately searching for the next big thing without giving any consideration to organizational preparedness. I think it was Yoda who said: “There is great responsibility in receiving the idea.” Okay, maybe it wasn’t Yoda, but it sure sounds like him because it is so profoundly true. For successful innovation, it’s necessary to ensure the organization:

    1. is in the right mindset (that of problem-solving)
    2. has supporting processes and tools in place
    3. is properly structured/staffed to execute the processes and administer the tools
    4. is culturally prepared to respond.

    Whatever you do, don’t skip these steps! It will sink the innovative spirit of the organization and backfire in harmful ways. I’m not saying you need to spend months and years getting ready to innovate; I’m just recommending that you have answers to the above questions to ensure you are equipped to handle and implement the changes innovation programs can bring.

  2. Focus! And Capture Needs BEFORE Ideas!
    There is a time and a place for the electronic employee suggestion box and open innovation. But having a short-term (2-4 week), focused innovation campaign that gives people a specific problem to solve often leads to more valuable results. And by narrowing idea capture down to a specific problem to solve, it’s much easier to define metrics (hard or soft) to determine success and benefit.
  3. Brand It, Baby!
    One way to get people excited about driving innovative results is by branding and marketing your innovation tool and specific campaigns. With today’s technology, there is no excuse for rolling out a vendor-branded software tool. Presenters at the conference had full-blown advertising campaigns, including videos to explain the objective and generate hype, and logos with associated color schemes to skin the software. Re-branded programs and tools had names like “Think Tank” and “Idea Kitchen” to really capture the attention of idea submitters. Some companies even sponsored specific “Innovation Days” around a particular campaign to encourage involvement and ownership. Don’t fall victim to assuming that “if you build it, they will come.” (Field of Dreams; not Yoda.) By branding your innovation program, you’re sure to drive quality ideas that deliver results… because it is, after all, about the results.
  4. Show Me the Money!
    Sometimes solving a problem and the feeling of accomplishment in contributing to the success of the company is a reward in itself. But for most of us, a little incentive or some recognition for the great, problem-solving ideas we submit goes a long way. You know how it feels when you put thought and effort into something and it seems as if your idea has dropped into a black hole where there is never so much as a reply or simple, “thank you.” It sucks. And why would you waste your precious time on something to which management is only giving lip service. Whether feedback comes in the form of public recognition for being a top innovator (that’s FREE for all of you penny pinchers keeping track at home) or in the form of a big fat check (option B, please!), it is critical for the success and sustainability of your innovation program to reward good ideas.

So there you have it, Product Pulse Peeps…innovation in four simple steps. Implementing an innovation tool and program isn’t hard, but you can’t skip any of the steps if you want to drive real results. As it relates to innovation, Yoda would say (and this time, you can look it up!): “Do or do not. There is no try.”

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Carrie Nauyalis Written by Carrie Nauyalis Contractor - Product Development

Carrie Nauyalis brings her passion, experience, and thought leadership in the product portfolio management industry to her current role as Executive in Residence at Planview. As an EIR, Carrie is collaborating on market research and sharing best practices with Planview prospects and customers. She is an active speaker, MBA guest lecturer, blogger, and vlogger on all things PPM, with warm places in her heart for innovation, calculating ROI, and agile. Carrie spent 19 years with Planview in various positions, including global consulting, product management, and as the solution evangelist for innovation and new product development. Prior to Planview, Carrie held multiple systems engineering positions with Emerson Process. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Truman State.