Innovation is Everybody’s Responsibility

A few times a year most companies tend to start or re-look at their Innovation and product development cycles for the following year. Often involved in such matters, I’ve experienced that most of the time elements of the answer involves innovation and some of the time it also includes design. Ultimately though it often boils down to the one perennial question: “So fellows, what are we going to make?”
Before we continue lets take a look at a few wonderful quotes on innovation:

“At Microsoft there are lots of brilliant ideas but the image is that they all come from the top – I’m afraid that’s not quite right.” ~ Bill Gates
“Learning to leverage the creative thinking skills of every individual, regardless of their level, creates the sustainable competitive advantage every corporation is striving for.” ~ Jim O’Neal
“Most people think of innovation only in terms of R&D or new product development -– but taking an idea and turning it into cash is an effort that involves almost every part of a company. The challenge is thinking about and managing this extremely broad set of inter-related activity as a unified process.” ~ Hal Sirkin, Boston Consulting Group

I’m sure by now most of us are well aware of the power and importance of innovation as a strategy to come out ahead in today’s market. Anyways back to the story, this year for me the discussion is no different. However, instead of just letting a few managers and R&D people decide, I thought why not make innovation everybody’s responsibility?
Subsequently I suggested to top management to open it to the entire organization and leverage it as a huge resource.

Advantages
And why not? Here are some of the advantages.
1) It involves everyone from the tea lady to the CFO in the life blood of an organization, the creation of its products.
2) If 2 heads are better than 1, can you imagine if you got everyone involved in problem solving? You are tapping on the collective mind power of a large resource.
3) The best ideas come from different perspectives or view points of the problem at hand. You be surprised what ideas my former manager of Logistics could come up with. That guys was brilliant.

Disadvantages
What discussion would not be complete with out a list of disadvantages?
1) No one would participate. Depending on the corporate culture, people may not love their organization enough to help out. Most people go home at 5pm anyway and may not want additional responsibility.
2) You might get tons of unworkable ideas. No idea is bad, just some might be hard to make it work or not meet corporate strategy.
3) People could use it as a means to complain. Angry or unhappy people are often “navel gazing”.

Suggestions
So with this in mind here are some suggestions.
1) Create a control document and circulate it as a template for ideas submission. Ensure it encourages submissions to have some kind of estimated Bill of Materials (BOM) and some idea of costings. This forces the employee to really think the idea through before sending it in.
2) Point one might not be so easy for some, if for example they are from non-technical departments. So get employees to form product or idea teams. B&O has been very successful in this as a means to get varied perspectives and yet maintain some kind of control in the greater scheme of things.
3) Create a committee, run by the main product stake holders (for example Sales, R&D, Design, and Management etc.) as a final arbitrator of the idea and to see if formal product research and development can start on it.

Have a go and see what you come up with? I’m still learning and am always pleasantly surprised.

6 Comments
  • John Hunter

    September 20, 2007 at 7:57 am Reply

    Here is a link to a great video on innovation at Google. Lots of good ideas to use, I think.

  • DT

    October 1, 2007 at 10:10 am Reply

    Hi John,
    Sorry for the late reply and thanks for the wonderful link.

  • Howard

    October 3, 2007 at 10:03 pm Reply

    Hi DT:
    I appreciate your comments about a disciplined approach to harnessing innovation through an organization. Using a form is a start. But, there are much more effective tools out there.
    You might want to take a look at a company Vertabase that markets a web-based project management software. It is really a team based collaboration tool that can be used effectively to generate new ideas and creativity through an organization. Have you considered this angle

  • DT

    October 4, 2007 at 9:44 pm Reply

    Hi Howard,
    I will look into the software and see how it can help. Thanks for the heads up.
    It will be a tough ask though, as I have not yet seen a software system that at the end of the day does not stifle innovation in some way, due to its own limitations in its design.
    Currently we are Microsoft project driven, and perhaps this system could be better. Let’s see.

  • Howard

    January 2, 2008 at 12:28 am Reply

    Thanks for the follow-up comment. There is new, New York Times article you should get into. I

  • accessible website design

    April 15, 2008 at 1:02 am Reply

    I think you hit the nail on the head with this one.
    I recently moved across the country for a new job helping them with SEO and design and needless to say its been an uphill battle.
    I keep trying to get everybody involved since the end result will benefit from multiple perspectives. 9 times out of 10 everybody gets excited in the meeting but no one follows through on any contributions.

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