7 Strategies for Developing a More Innovative Organization

Pulled from the white paper, Becoming a Leader Who Fosters Innovation by David Magellan Horth and Jonathan Vehar

Innovation is a tricky thing to bring into an organization because it’s so multi-faceted.  There are many types of innovation, there are many people to consider, and there are many processes to use, all happening in a complex environment that is constantly changing and evolving based on what your competitors are doing.

So what’s a leader to do to drive it forward?  Following are seven strategies for bringing about more innovation and creating a deliberate approach to growth and development of the individual’s and your organization’s capacity.

  1. Create a mandate for change, backed by a strategy that embraces innovation. If you are not senior enough to create the mandate, gather peers around you who share your passion for innovation and collectively approach those who can create the mandate, or scale it back to a level where you have authority to make it happen. Use the IBM 2010 CEO Study, IBM 2011 Creative Leadership Studies, 2012 Capgemini Innovation Leadership Study and other evidence to get their attention.
  2. Be a a model of what it will take individually and collectively for the organization to become more innovative. It is particularly important for senior leaders to walk the talk.  Our colleagues McGuire and Rhodes (2009) describe this as “head room,” demonstrating courage, thoughtfulness and vulnerability and modeling new behaviors that facilitate a shift in culture. Make managing the tension between business thinking and innovative thinking a priority.
  3. Communicate challenging strategic issues throughout the organization. Use them as vehicles for promoting collaboration and seeking creative ideas. The IRS, for example, creates a rolling strategy, rather than reinventing the wheel on a yearly basis. The issues become focal points for employee creativity – rather than random contributions to a suggestion box.
  4. Create highly diverse teams to address strategic issues. Help them overcome limiting differences so diversity becomes a source of novel ideas.  Jerry Hirshbert, the founding director of Nissan Design International called it “creative abrasion,” a friction that sparks innovation.
  5. Give people access to creative methods and experiences. Even those with creative potential get stuck. Readily available tools, methods and experiences help them reframe and think differently about challenges and opportunities.
  6. Design and build systems to nurture innovation. Look for low-cost ways to test and prototype new solutions quickly so you can learn from the mistakes when it’s safe to make them, and the evolution and development doesn’t happen AFTER the concept launches.
  7. Champion ideas that don’t quite fit and network with your peers to find a home for them. Actively span boundaries and break down barriers to innovation, including internal politics, and destructive criticism, as well as hurdles, gates and other and unnecessary systems.

Since this isn’t an exclusive list of strategies to develop an innovative organization, what are some others that you’d advocate?

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About Jonathan Vehar

As a Senior Faculty member at CCL and subject-matter expert in innovation, Jonathan’s education and extensive experience in program design serves the Center in his design and delivery responsibilities for various Global Solutions clients, as well as his delivery responsibilities for various open enrollment programs. Jonathan is also an adjunct instructor at Northwestern University, the Center for Studies in Creativity at the State University of New York, Ithaca College and the Creative Problem Solving Institute.
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5 Responses to 7 Strategies for Developing a More Innovative Organization

  1. Thank you, Jonathan, I am a big fan of practical tips on how to implement innovation to make it more applicable. Here are more Top 10 innovation posts: http://orgchanger.com/2013/02/21/top-10-innovation-posts/

  2. avatar Denise Morgan says:

    Terrific look at a complicated idea.

    • avatar Jonathan says:

      Thanks Denise! As you suggest, innovation is a very complicated issue with many facets, approaches, pitfalls and pathways. Stay tuned for more suggestions on how to navigate the complex innovation map!

  3. avatar Beth says:

    I think celebrating the risk takers in your organization is important to sustaining innovation. Whenever possible, publicly note the staff who consistently are taking risks. That illustrates that senior leaders are noticing these behaviors.

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