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Tim Millett
Published by Tim Millett
08 October 2013

The generation of new ideas is simply about inspiration and, whilst indispensible in growth and development, if these ideas remain as simply that then they have little practical use apart from being the seed of other ideas.

It is when an idea is combined with action that it is transformed into innovation.

So how do we ensure that these ideas develop into an innovation that is effective, and does not simply represent change for the sake of change? As Peter Drucker, the leadership and management guru, is quoted as saying – “An innovation, to be effective, has to be simple and it has to be focused.”

So let’s take a simple, focused approach to innovation by breaking the process down into three bite size pieces or steps:

Step 1 – We need to encourage people to identify new ways of doing things.
A lot of our success in achieving this will have to do with the culture we create within our team – one that celebrates, and doesn’t seek to automatically judge, new ideas. Even though it sounds like a contradiction, one of the best ways of achieving a culture that is driven by creativity is to formalise the creativity process, as one of its biggest killers is a lack of time. Under normal circumstances team leaders do not dedicate enough time to creativity in general, and to creative problem solving in particular. Some of the simplest ways to do this include:

  • Using time management skills by allocating quality time slots (in your diary or in meetings for example) to keep abreast of new ideas and trends in your industry
  • Benchmarking against best practice, within your own industry and even against other, seemingly unrelated, industries. This can be achieved informally or more formally by conducting anonymous service audits, for example, or via market research
  • Asking others outside the immediate operation to share their thoughts as a catalyst for improvement – other departments and even customers are a good source of objectivity
  • Creating opportunities to stimulate creative thinking, especially as part of a formal creative problem solving process, to address the root problem and not the “mess”.

Step 2 – We need to develop an understanding of the viability of the ideas generated, according to parameters established by the operation. Viability will include asking yourself such basic questions as “Is the idea practical?”, “Is the idea an effective use of our resources?” and even “Is the idea legal?” Prioritisation is going to be an important part of this process, and in choosing an idea to be developed all stakeholders are going to ask “What’s In It For Me?” The team leader can help to guide the establishment of these parameters by doing such things as:

  • Encouraging a realistic balance between the focus on the achievement of the team’s goals and the focus on the people who need to achieve that goal. An innovative and effective way to use a project is as part of your people development, and likewise a performance review is also a great way to innovatively resource for your projects
  • Understanding when to use technical or specialist skills, when it is important to manage resources, and when to be an entrepreneur
  • Working within the boundaries established by such things as the organisation’s values, operational and behavioural expectations of the team and job descriptions
  • Balancing the three core project management objectives – the scope of the idea, the time involved in its development and the cost involved in its development

Step 3 – We need to inspire action. As already mentioned, the essential ingredient in real innovation is action. In doing this the team culture needs to be one that embraces change as an opportunity for growth and development – that team members actively participate in the whole process of innovation. As part of our leadership responsibility, this means:

  • Looking for opportunities for the team to be part of the solution – for example by allowing them to define the behaviours and needs to achieve business objectives – the team will take far greater ownership of their own solution than they will have of a solution that is imposed
  • Developing leaders within the team who embrace the culture and who are role models in nurturing innovation
  • Motivating team members to create their own WOW projects – taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary, thereby stimulating meaningful change and their careers
  • Having your team members share responsibility for their own development, through meaningful development discussions and the setting of SMARTER goals

Of course, the skills required for each of these steps need to be trained as part of the overall process for success. However, as with all cultural change, this training has to be balanced with a set of behaviours from the top levels of leadership that nurtures and celebrates this process as part of their culture of innovation and effectiveness.

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