I always start an executive workshop the same way. I ask the execs in the room to raise their hand if they think “innovation” in their business has significant strategic importance. Inevitably they all raise their hands with virtually no exceptions, many often stating that it is perhaps THE most important strategic consideration of all. When asked why, they reel off a bunch of well-known platitudes “like adapt or die” and so on.
I then ask a different question. I ask them to keep their hands in the air if they have a reliable process in their business to manage and deliver this “oh so important” strategic objective. Inevitably, the hands all go down.
I like to call this the innovation paradox. I call it this because I cannot think of a single other business objective, or even trivial task, that execs and their managers consistently don’t apply or invent a “way” of doing it. They have processes for HR, Finance, Training and all the rest of it, but where innovation is concerned they prefer to rely on watercooler chats turning to action whenever they get a minute. Not surprisingly, they never get a minute.
On InterTradeIreland’s Challenge Programme we teach a business process called Innovation Engineering. Developed in the U.S. by Eureka!, it’s the best way that we’ve discovered to turn this critically important “random art” into a reliable process so that business leaders can be confident that innovation is being executed in their organisation.
For most SME’s though, taking simple measures like putting regular, immovable meetings in the diary to move innovation projects forward would begin to give innovation the priority that they report it deserves.
Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” famously stated “Doing the first things first” as the third habit which refers to a leader’s ability to prioritise highly important, but non-urgent, tasks. If we really do put innovation near the very top of our strategic priorities, then we should be able to take a step back and reflect that our business resources are deployed to it in a way that reflects its stated importance.
Why not go and do it now? Put a 30-minute recurring appointment in the diary each week and when someone like me asks the question - you’ll be the one keeping your hand in the air!