Most breakthrough innovation is developed and delivered by small and new-start companies with nothing to lose. Large corporations that are truly innovative are all too rare.

However, it need not be so. If innovation is to be sustainable in an organisation it requires a structured, repeatable process.

Which of these seven steps could your business implement to dramatically increase your chances of delivering breakthrough innovation and growth?

  1. The CEO must lead the process. Symbolically, this emphasises the importance of innovation to the company, and it also encourages others to get involved. What’s more many organisational structures inhibit innovation; top-level leadership helps you cut-through and overcome these barriers.
  2. Expect and welcome failure. Many businesses operate a “get it right first time” philosophy. That’s fine when you’re dealing with ongoing operations, but it simply doesn’t work when you’re trying something new. The CEO’s leadership can also help overcome a desire to be 100% right before moving, but there needs to be latitude across the organisation and an understanding that not everything will work.
  3. Clarify your strategic objectives. Your managers will be able to contribute to innovation and growth if they understand your strategy. Are you clear on your target customer segments, the markets in which you wish to participate, and how you are seeking to compete and win in those markets? If so, how well have you communicated these insights to your managers so that they can turn your strategy into action?
  4. Create standard approaches. At an organisational level, you will need standard approaches so that managers and teams from different parts of the business can communicate and work together. Establishing common ways of generating ideas, managing funding, reviewing performance will make it easier for you to manage a company-wide process.
  5. Train managers on the process. Your people must have the skills before they can contribute to your innovation process. As they apply these skills the results will improve, but a starting point in idea generation, understanding possible prizes, project management and seeking and securing funding are all areas where some initial education will pay off.
  6. Focus on rapid testing. Many large organisations agonise on a best approach. It’s far better, however, to try something out. Having a central kitty to fund simple, early prototypes (no more than a few £ thousands at any one time) allows you to test your ideas quickly with customers and give you a better understanding of what will work than a pile of academic customer research.
  7. Focus on and back the winners. Rapid testing will give you a feel for what will work and what won’t. This enables you to then focus on the winners. At this point you can create a balance between those ideas that are likely to give a rapid payback (say, less than 12 months) and those which will require a longer-term investment.

© Stuart Cross 2010. All rights reserved.