In Standard

In my last article I suggested companies should dedicate 10% of their time, resources, energy, and attention on innovation. That’s right, at least 10% on things that do not generate revenues today.

The thing to realize is something from this 10% dedicated to innovation will probably generate 100% of the company’s revenues a few years in the future. If you think whatever you are making, selling, doing today will be the same thing in a few short years you are setting yourself up for an unpleasant surprise. The kind of surprise that can end your company. The phones will just stop ringing. People will stop clicking on your website. Or worse…

Innovation can’t be the last item on your ToDo list.

Let’s dive deeper into a way to better manage this precious 10% of time and money so the probability of positive outcome is higher.

First let’s split up innovation activities into four different types.

1) Incremental Evolution – The evolution of current products or services. This is the mode Apple is in now with their iPhones, iPads, and PCs. This is essential innovation but not really sustaining. Too much dependence in Incremental Evolution is a recipe for slow decline.

Rule #1: Must have CEO approval and engagement.

2) Leveraging Distribution – Totally new Products/Services that can be distributed through your company’s current distribution channels. Think the online digital iTunes store offerings from Apple. This is their real growth engine lately. They are leveraging their current user base with new offerings. Some are recurring subscriptions.

3) New Product/Service with New Distribution – Totally new products/services that cannot be distributed through your current distribution channels. This is the highest risk category but should not be ignored if it leverages some core strength of the company. This would be like Tesla getting into the home solar generation business. It is not a car. It probably has a different distribution strategy than Tesla cars. But this home solar business because uses their expertise with battery manufacturing. You still need power in your home when the sun goes down.

4) Acquisitions – This is where your company acquires another company, product, team, or technology to add some kind of innovative product/service to your company’s offerings. This acquisition should fit one of the three categories above.

First let’s assume you believe innovation is the way to secure your company’s future and have decided that it’s a good idea to dedicate some resources to innovation research. Where should you start? What would an innovation initiative checklist look like?

Innovation Initiative – Startup, Management, & Delivery Checklist

☐ Be aware and ready for nothing to come of this innovation initiative. There are no guarantees. The only guarantee is that you and your team will learn something new from this effort. Plan six months for the innovation initiative. It needs a beginning and end. Some deadlines.

☐ Secure resources and the company CEO’s commitment for the innovation research effort. Even if it is just a commitment to allow certain employees the ability to use 10% of their time on this innovation initiative.

☐ Assign one person to lead the innovation initiative effort and work with innovation teams. This will be the go-to person. The Innovation Initiative Director. The point of contact. The initiative’s “owner”, traffic cop, and main booster. The glue that will hold it together and keep the activities moving forward. Although this person will not (and should not) be working on an innovation initiative of their own they will need to commit 10% of their time. Four hours a week.

☐ Schedule a final Show & Tell date/time/place for the innovation research results to be presented to the CEO, other managers, and stakeholders for review and comment. Each presentation should be limited to no more than 15 minutes with 15 minutes of Q&A.

☐ Schedule monthly check-ins with the innovation teams and the Innovation Initiative Director.

☐ Set up the innovation teams. A team could be one person. This will sound funny but name the teams. Maybe even get some T-Shirts made. Make it fun. Stuff like. “The Fifth Floor Disruptors” or “Innovation Agitators”.

☐ Once teams are set up offer Mentors from within or outside the company as the “wise old person” the team can turn to. The team can choose to listen to their mentor or not listen. The key thing here is to be sure teams avoid spending time on something the company tried ten years ago and failed. I say avoid because things change and now may be a better time for the past idea.

☐ Schedule a kick-off event. Yes… This should be fun. Try to get each team leader to make a one-minute presentation about their passions, what they plan to explore, or what they think is ready for disruption inside the company.

☐ Set the teams loose… Use a project management system like BaseCamp for the teams to collaborate and document what they are doing. It is a way for the teams to keep forward momentum going and for the Innovation Initiative Director to keep an eye on what’s happening.

☐ Do the monthly check ins to keep the teams motivated and be sure they are spending time doing the research.

☐ Schedule an early-program “team augmentation” event. After about a month or so the teams should have some idea on their general direction. They may have also identified a few holes in their team. People they will need to go deeper with their research. Schedule a company event where team leaders make a one-minute pitch about their research area and what kind of person or people they would like to add to the team. During a post-pitch networking session potential team member can show interest to team leaders.

☐ Do the show and tell event. Pick or don’t pick something to pursue by the company. But give very constructive feedback to the innovation teams so they will know better what to chase next time.

☐ Repeat…

I say repeat because company innovation needs to be a constant.

The actual six-month innovation initiative time period should be unstructured. Beside showing the teams the list of 4 types of innovation, the Innovation Initiative Director should not tell teams what to do. The discovery element is very important. People will work on things that spark them. And if it sparks them maybe it will spark your customers, too.

Hopefully this checklist can get your company started on the road to innovation.

And… 10% is only about 4 hours of employee time a week. Not much. But you can bet they will work on this on their own time also. One unintended consequence of an Innovation Initiative like this is better employee engagement and overall satisfaction. Always a good thing…

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