Nothing accelerates a company’s growth like innovation, and nothing stifles it like a “that’s how we’ve always done it” mentality.
Axios, a news startup, is an excellent example of a company that is breaking down barriers and thinking outside the box. Several Other companies will pay to learn how to write like Axios reporters, and the company is betting. AxiosHQ, a new communications platform, launched in February and allowed businesses to send internal newsletters in the style of Axios. How much does it cost? At least $10,000 per year. It’s unclear whether executives will be willing to put up that kind of cash, but it’s an intriguing idea.
What does it take for businesses to vet, approve, and develop similarly innovative ideas? The answer is not straightforward, and it differs from one company to the next. It’s easy to talk about innovation, but it’s much more difficult to perfect a process for selecting and implementing the best ideas.
There is no such thing as a magic wand when it comes to innovation.
Leaders must use data to create a rubric for vetting innovative ideas, just as they use data to run many aspects of an organization. This maintains order and ensures that everyone is on the same page.
Innovation programs that lack an evaluation process become short-sighted and may lose alignment with long-term organizational goals. Having a well-organized process also takes the emotion out of decision-making, allowing you to keep your project on track and your budget as data-driven as possible.
Leaders must also be aligned around critical factors for innovation to succeed. This creates a living rubric that can be adjusted as business needs change and evolve throughout the organization. This team will usually be led by an innovation leader — a chief innovation officer, a chief strategy officer, or a business unit leader — to ensure that the process runs smoothly and on time.
We struggled to find a technical solution that was flexible enough while still allowing us to manage our ideas when we developed our rubric at Complex. We decided to make one ourselves. We now use this tool to power our entire idea management process, and it works because effective innovation strategy always begins at the top. Bring your entire leadership team together right at the start of the process to talk about priorities and spark ideas, laying out your concrete vision along the way.
Here are three methods for assessing your innovation ideas and developing a framework for turning them into strategic realities:
1. Make an innovation strategy.
It would be best if you first created a blueprint — such as Google’s Eight Pillars of Innovation — that defines the initiative’s overall structure before you begin gathering ideas from your team. This aids in erecting barriers around the problem spaces in which the organization is willing to participate and which problem spaces are off-limits.
An innovation blueprint is made up of three parts: a statement, an antithesis, and a thesis. Your mission statement outlines your company’s goals and explains why you believe in what you’re doing, why now is the best time to do it, and why you’re the best candidate for the job. Create an antithesis that identifies the issues, business models, and core technologies you will not address. What is the reason for this? It eliminates distractions and keeps the focus on the most important things. Finally, write a thesis that explains how you’ll invest in problem spaces, business models, and technologies to bring about the change you desire.
2. Define the themes of innovation.
It’s time to identify the themes of problem spaces you want to solve once you’ve created a solid blueprint. This step will define the categories into which your innovation ideas should be classified and how your solutions might be implemented.
Consider how the National Association of Engineers (NAE) outlines the numerous challenges that remain to be overcome in its field. NAE defines themes (such as joy, sustainability, health, and security) as areas ripe for innovation and abounding with opportunity in its report on the grand challenges of engineering.
What is the primary motivation for taking this approach? It enables you to consider ways to innovate beyond what the organization had previously imagined — and to set goals based on those parameters.
3. Return the measurement criteria to a rubric.
It’s time to develop the criteria you’ll use to measure your success after you’ve defined your innovation themes. IDEO, a global design firm, set out to quantify innovation by looking at its clients’ internal team dynamics and other companies focused on innovation. The company identified six key areas for innovation and then sent its survey, dubbed “Creative Difference,” to larger companies to see how their employees were doing innovation. IDEO sent results with concrete innovation metrics and recommendations on following and meeting them moving forward after the survey was completed.
Keep in mind that you aren’t limited to traditional metrics when defining how you measure innovation and developing your rubric. Feel free to be inventive and creative when deciding on those! Everything from societal impact and economic value to organizational scale and new market discovery can be measured.
Developing innovative ideas necessitates far more than a quick brainstorming session or picking an appealing concept from a list. You can maintain control over the outcomes of your innovation program rather than leaving it to chance by developing an underlying philosophy and structure that governs the prioritization of ideas that flow through an organization.