Just about every CEO in America wants to increase their innovation capabilities, but most are still wondering how. Hiring great design and innovation leaders certainly helps, because the connection between design, innovation and corporate culture is powerful indeed. Connecting the right people with the right processes can be key in developing cultures of innovation, lets consider how.
Every innovation starts with an idea, which starts with people, and some people excel at this capability. People are what make the creative sparks fly, and without tapping into the creativity of your employees your innovation efforts are doomed. But encouraging employee creativity goes far beyond the basic white board and brainstorm sessions, it’s more about leadership, empowerment, perspective, a journey into design thinking, embracing risk, and focusing on the end user experience. Rather than relying on technology or R&D for innovation, many savvy companies today are igniting their creative power with internal design and innovation leaders very successfully. But frankly there is a shortage of experienced talent. It seems that today most everyone claims to be in the “creative class”, and while we all truly can be very creative, few people have the experience or ability to manage creative teams, scale creative processes, and lead an organization through the necessary change. Formal innovation and design leadership functions are a very effective model, and this can also lead to distributed and empowered innovation. The innovation and design leadership team can engage many employees by using design thinking methods which can scale, and can significantly influence corporate culture.
The second foundation is the right process. This is also challenging, because traditional business-centric processes and innovation processes are often at odds. Most companies still rely on a business-based waterfall process, but innovation tends to thrive in an Agile process, and business process tends to be ISO or standards focused, while innovation that matters is more user-focused. What’s more, rather than seeing technology or time-to-market as the problem or opportunity, better ideas usually emerge by seeking to solve the right problems. Marco Steinberg, a director at the Finnish Innovation government think tank argues that if a definition of design is solving problems, then a definition of strategic design is solving the right problems. Similar to strategic design, great innovation processes work with the problem in mind, not the technology. In innovation cultures, even in the midlevel’s of the organization, it needs to be acceptable to discover and work on solving the real problems. That’s not easy. Employees need to be empowered to ask big questions, challenge the status quo, fail early and often, and focus on solving the underlining issues, regardless of the problem “owner”.
What kind of people and processes do you think are best at building cultures of innovation?