Nothing drives a business faster than innovation, and nothing stifles it faster than a “we’ve always done it this way” attitude.
News startup Axios is an excellent example of a company that breaks through barriers and thinks out of the box. The company is betting strongly that other companies will pay to learn how to write like Axios reporters. The new communication platform AxiosHQ was launched in February and allows companies to send internal newsletters in Axios style. Its costs? At least $ 10,000 a year. Whether executives are willing to invest that amount remains to be seen, but it’s a fascinating proposition.
What does it take for organizations to assess, approve and develop equally innovative ideas? The answer is not easy and varies from company to company. Innovation efforts receive a lot of attention, but it is much more difficult to perfect a process for selecting and implementing the best ideas.
Not a magic wand for innovation
In the same way that data-driven decisions drive many aspects of an organization, leaders must use data to create a rubric to explore innovative ideas. This strengthens discipline and keeps everyone aligned.
Without an evaluation process, innovation programs become shortsighted and may not fit the long-term goals of the organization. Having an organized process also takes the strain out of decision-making to keep project focus and dollar spending as data-driven as possible.
For innovation to be successful, leaders must also align with critical factors. This is a living rubric that can be adapted across the organization as business needs change and evolve. Typically, some sort of innovation leader – a chief innovation officer, chief strategy officer, or business unit leader – will lead this team to ensure that the process runs smoothly and stays on track.
When we developed our feature at Complex, we aimed for a technical solution that was flexible enough yet still allowed us to manage our ideas. Ultimately, we’ll build one ourselves. We now use this tool to drive the underlying engine of our entire idea management process, and it works because an effective innovation strategy always starts at the top. Bring your entire leadership team together early in the process to discuss priorities and initiate conversations about ideas, setting out your concrete vision along the way.
Here are three ways to evaluate your innovation ideas and create a framework to turn them into strategic reality:
1. Make an innovation plan
Before you start collecting ideas from your team, come up with a plan, such as Google’s Eight Pillars of Innovation, that defines the overall structure of the initiative. This helps to create barriers around the problem areas the organization wants to play in and, more importantly, which problem areas are off-limits.
An innovation plan consists of three separate components: explanation, antithesis, and proposition. Your statement outlines your company’s ambitions and describes why you believe in what you do, why now is the best time to do it, and what makes you the best candidate for the position. From here, develop an antithesis that defines the core issues, business models, and technologies that you don’t want to address. Why? Eliminate distractions and keep your focus on priorities. Finally, create a dissertation that gives you a clear perspective on how you will invest in problem spaces, business models, and technologies to create the change you want to see.
2. Define innovation themes
Once you’ve developed a solid plan, it’s time to identify the problem space issues you want to fix. This step defines the categories in which your innovation ideas should fall and clearly outlines how your solutions can play a role.
Think of this as something akin to how the National Association of Engineers (NAE) describes the many challenges that remain to be overcome in your field. In its report on the great challenges of engineering, NAE defines themes (eg, Joy, Sustainability, Health, and Safety) as areas ripe for innovation and full of opportunities.
The main reason for choosing this approach? It allows you to consider possible ways to innovate beyond what the organization previously envisioned and set goals with those parameters in mind.
3. Assign the metrics to a rubric
Once you have defined your innovation themes, it is time to develop the criteria you will use to measure your success. The global design firm IDEO wanted to quantify innovation by looking at the dynamics of its clients’ internal team, as well as other companies that focus on innovation. After the survey was completed, IDEO sent results with tangible innovation statistics and recommendations on how to track and achieve them in the future.
When defining how to measure innovation and create your unique rubric, keep in mind that you are not limited to traditional metrics. Feel comfortable being creative and innovative when deciding on them! Everything from social impact and economic value to organizational scale and discovering new markets can be measured.
The process of searching for innovative ideas requires much more than a quick brainstorming session or selecting an attractive idea from a list. By creating an underlying philosophy and structure that govern the prioritization of ideas that flow through an organization, you can stay in control of the results of your innovation program instead of leaving nothing to chance.