Imagine the your team comes up with 100 improvement ideas. How much would you save on costs? How much productivity or revenue would you gain? A lot, potentially. But how to get from an idea to a solution?
Innovation doesn’t come from distant galaxies or mysterious institutions. It emerges from within your team, from you. Universities play undoubtedly a vital role in fostering innovation. However, when it comes to your team and company, you have immense power to drive innovation forward. The most successful companies, regardless of their size, prioritize internal innovation and improvement initiatives. These organizations stand as industry leaders not solely due to their scale, but because they excel at innovating. We all know Toyota and Kaizen, but it might be that you are an even better example of how to master a systematic collection of improvement ideas from your team. Collecting ideas is a no-brainer. What do you do next when you have caught a very, very big catch? Electricity was not invented by improving candles, right? How to make sure your next great idea becomes a money-making or saving solution?
People Have The Power!
American songwriter Patti Smith sings: “People have the power”. They do! So let’s empower them. Your team can build anything if they are met with the right support.
Moticheck participated as a sponsor and a mentor in the European Innovation Academy (EIA) program in late July 2023, hosted in Porto. This event witnessed the birth of over 50 startups. These startups ranged from simple features to complex solutions to big global problems.
The uniqueness of EIA lies in the fact that these startups were initiated by students within a three-week timeframe. These students weren’t scientists or natural-born innovators. They did not know each other beforehand and were nowhere close to forming high-performing teams. But they were curious and motivated and they were provided with a supportive framework. So let’s take a look at the formula used. Is there anything worth coping?
Creating The Scene And Framework
The EIA program involved numerous volunteers who managed day-to-day operations during the three-week event. Additionally, 75 mentors from diverse backgrounds offered their guidance, and the EIA staff contributed months of preparation work. Yet, if we look at the ratio of mentors and support personnel to innovators, it’s about 25%. If you remove the support needed for travel and accommodation arrangements, you end up with a figure between 10% and 15%.
The program outcome was not met by a mere accident. It was the result of meticulous preparation.
In other words, it indicates that you should invest 10% of your resources to provide an innovative sparkling framework to make your people excel. This way you can have support that empowers a majority of employees in your organization to challenge the status quo, collaborate on innovative ideas, and propel the company to new horizons. While some areas may require external support, similar to any training or consultancy program, the core innovation drive should be nurtured internally. As the American author Daniel Pink has put it: “Engagement is the mother of motivation!”
The Recipe And The Investment
Innovation is the product of an ongoing process. Easier said than done, though. Copying others’ best practices may not necessarily cut it for you. You aren’t Toyota, Google, or EIA. You possess your unique set of ingredients, necessitating a distinct recipe.
The big thing to take from the EIA is to focus on two types of support in building solutions from raw ideas: constant leadership and specific mentorship. While in the EIA program, the leadership is provided by life coaches, and in the formal program, the role fits very well into the leadership definition we can learn from textbooks. Nothing spectacular, actually. Just make sure your team has the resources and tools to build the idea and the resources to take risks and fail, fall back, and start again. Business as usual.
Maybe this is something they have studied previously or do as a hobby.
The specific mentorship is more difficult to list by categories. Different ideas need different competencies. It is very important to know which ones you have in your organization and which ones you should outsource. Although one should make sure it has quick access to know-how once needed, there are two resources usually hidden in this game. Firstly the hidden assets and know-how of your people possess that you are not aware of. Something that people do not explore in their everyday roles but master secretly. Maybe this is something they have studied previously or do as a hobby. And the second is AI. Previously known as Google. If universities are afraid that students use AI to compose their master theses then companies must be afraid that employees do not use AI in their work. Especially when exploring new ideas. Once we know who knows what internally, we can secure channels to have external support. There are societies, associations, and academic institutions out there on top of the traditional consultancies and advisors.
Do you know Tesla? The underdog of car manufacturing less than ten years ago. Innovation isn’t sparked by a lightning strike; that might just render you incapacitated. True innovation arises through the consistent exploration of new ideas and incremental improvements. Phrases like kaizen and Toyota pop up when you explore how to foster continuous improvement, innovation, and total quality management. It may go well beyond an improvement. Countless successful companies trace their origins back to seemingly offbeat side projects – spinoffs. Many of these have grown into major players in their industries.
Rumor has it that every engineer at Alphabet (aka. Google) can dedicate 20% of their work time to exploring fresh ideas and pioneering new technology. Comparing Alphabet’s stock price (GOOG) increase during 5 year period to the S&P500 you see that Alphabet outperformed the index by 4,6 times. Not 4,6%. It’s 4,6 times! Plus, have you ever heard an engineer talking about how boring the work life is at Google? Never happened to me!
Dream Big, Focus Intently, And Move Swiftly
Innovation doesn’t come with guarantees. A staggering 90% of startups fizzle out within a couple of years. However, this isn’t indicative of poor ideas; often the ambition is not met with execution. You may collect a thousand new ideas. Not all of them are great! And simply good ideas are not able to compete with great ones. Successful ventures tend to excel in two areas: laser-focused attention on crucial success factors and rapid action. Once you’ve crafted a unique innovation, the key is to swiftly set it in motion, whether it caters to external or internal customers, whether it’s a minor enhancement or a groundbreaking innovation. Agility plays a pivotal role. Cultivating an open-minded, innovative culture is paramount; as Peter Drucker aptly stated, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”.
Saying that – prioritization is still important. But not as usual. I urge you to look for alternative approaches to prioritization. I would argue that the basics are still important – bang for the buck and time to market, but there are many interesting ways to evaluate these criteria. You can use emoticons or evaluate the idea on a scale of boring to cool or standard to futuristic. It is important to make it attractive to work on the ideas and progress fast.
Innovation isn’t a mere objective. It’s an outcome. Innovation doesn’t spontaneously occur; it thrives under specific conditions. And despite the challenges, it’s undeniably rewarding—perhaps even a lifesaver. At the very least, it’s an exciting endeavor.
Martin Rajasalu, October 2023