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Eight Key Dimensions to Sustainable Innovation

After attending the Training Officers Consortium Annual Institute and the Diversity Conference this week, I noticed a lot of conversation centered on the need for innovation. A colleague of mine, Andy Beaulieu wrote this article for our blog and thought you all might enjoy it:

Our initial article mentioned taking a systems perspective when it comes to innovation, recognizing that a set of interdependent dimensions comprises one’s innovation capability. The eight dimensions critical to innovation include:

  1. History and Results
  2. Strategy and Leadership
  3. Culture, Communication and Incentives
  4. Infrastructure, Skills, and Resources
  5. Ideation Process
  6. New Product / Service Commercialization
  7. Technology
  8. Program Evaluation and Improvement

Some of these dimensions will seem obvious – Strategy and Leadership, for example – and others not so apparent. To assess your organization’s innovation capability against these eight dimensions, and receive a customizable report comparing your responses to others, click here.

It’s no coincidence that the eight dimensions start with results, the outcome of your innovation efforts. Similar to the old catchphrase, “The past is the best predictor of future performance”, your ability to innovate is enhanced by having an innovation history – both ancient and recent – and by leveraging those successes going forward.

The most critical determinant of innovation success is leadership. And because innovation nearly always challenges the status quo, the need for active leadership is constant. On a formal basis, leaders must develop a strategy for innovation, complete with definition, scope, goals, objectives, and metrics.

Few organizations have the luxury of a culture that encourages risk-taking and views failures as learning opportunities; rather, those who innovate often work “against the grain.” But, culture can be shaped through interventions such as communication and incentives aimed at emphasizing and rewarding the desired behaviors.

Even organizations that make innovation “everyone’s business” must invest in a team to focus the effort, manage the innovation pipeline, and select projects to invest in. Often these teams will serve as an innovation incubator, which requires a range of skills, as well as the resources to conduct research, execute projects, and conduct market experiments.

Much has been made of the idea development process, which attracts attention due to its glitz and glamour. But beyond the brainstorming are a host of other ideation approaches to adopt: trend watching, market needs research, TRIZ, crowd-sourcing, etc.

If you’ve ever witnessed a new product or service that you “thought of ten years ago”, you know that idea conception is not the end of the innovation journey. Some firms excel at generating good ideas, but fall down in the hand-off to commercialization functions such as supply chain management, product management, marketing, operations, and customer service. Innovations need to be tracked through these hand-offs to ensure continuity and follow-through.

Another attention-grabber in the innovation press has been technology, where idea management systems providers have made more noise than contribution. While technology can enable innovation processes, and engage audiences outside the organization’s borders, it cannot thrive without strength in the other dimensions.

More important than perfect first-time execution of each dimension is a healthy approach to evaluating what’s working, what’s missing, and what needs to be improved. Starting small and constantly improving yields a program that can be nurtured, sustained and enhanced over time.

Subsequent articles will zero in on these dimensions, providing specific tips and examples to help you implement an innovation capability in your organization. Hey, if you’re going to write about innovation, shouldn’t you take some risks and be a little creative?

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