Seven ingredients for successful innovation

John Drever | 01 Aug 2014 | Comments

Setting out to create an innovation centre in our Communications business, I was keen to avoid some of the horror stories that pervade the literature on innovation. I’m old enough (only just) to remember the Osborne Computer Corporation. For those fresher-faced readers, have a look on Wikipedia. It was a company with a high degree of innovation that failed to effectively commercialise their ideas, and take account of the market and technology trends. The picture of their portable computer is worth seeing though (I actually used one of those but it was very old and dusty!).

A friend told me recently about an innovation initiative where the business they worked for opened up an ‘ideas box’ and received over 700 ideas from the staff. Unfortunately only three were deemed worthy of taking forward as innovation projects.

So what makes a good idea a good innovation?

I like to use a simple Venn diagram to explain my thoughts on this:

innovation venn diagram

I want to set the conditions in our Communications business such that we self-select towards the sweet-spot in the centre (although some of the other intersections are worth paying attention to).

The seven ingredients for successful innovation

Here is a framework we developed for innovation in Atkins that I am using in the Communications business:

1. Business plan: Define your business goals, vision and strategy then communicate them to the people you want to be innovative (that’s all the staff!)

New Innovation Framework2. Reflect your Business Plan in some innovation challenges, this helps your staff come up with ideas that might be strategically aligned. Bear in mind though that game changing ideas might go against your existing strategy!

3. Keep an eye on the market, technology trends and other external factors. What are they saying about the future opportunities for your business?

4. Develop a pipeline process. Score and rank your ideas and get a balanced portfolio of innovation projects through the process. Force some ideas into the funnel using the usual techniques (and try some unusual ones!)

5. Encourage and support the culture of innovation in your people and structure Define what you mean by innovation and make sure that all the elements of the culture are in place to support what you are doing. I use Johnson and Scholes’ Cultural Web (see below) as my bible.

Cultural web

6. It’s a team game!Unless you are working in a super-secret environment, you should seek help from a wide range of your innovation network.

7. Understand your exploitation route. Don’t forget that you need to make money from your ideas! And tell your colleagues about it too as they might be able to exploit your innovation in ways you’d never think off.

If you get these seven ingredients right then you are well on the way to successful innovation.