Why is it that six months down the line of launching a new “innovation initiative” in the organisation, reality kicks in and excitement starts to wane? One can almost compare it to the initial rush of being head over heels in love…

Innovation was the best thing since sliced bread remember, everything is going to be different around here. Innovation is going to save the day, it can do no wrong! The future once again looks stable, rosy, almost guaranteed. Innovation at your organisation has arrived and everyone is hooked on it!

Then the initial euphoria starts to dwindle, and we get confronted with the realities of every day life. The ‘launch party’ streamers faded, creativity workshops are a distant memory, the fun and games have stopped, the crayon drawings are packed away, and the best innovation idea up for reward this month centres around a redesign of leave forms. Now the executive board starts asking questions about real returns and no one seems to know whose job it was to track that! Quite frankly, this whole innovation affair is a huge disappointment. Embarrassment and a waste of time are other thoughts that comes to mind. How can we have been so wrong? So, as a result the next person speaking innovation’s name gets silenced and banished to the back of the boardroom.

Sounds familiar? Chances are it does. The promise of innovation often disappoints when it is viewed as an ad-hoc magic drug to fix current challenges. Success with innovation constitutes a systematic effort at building critical capability that delivers results, as Paul Hobcraft so eloquently describes.  Insights into the recent SA Innovation League data reveals that local organisations, like is the case elsewhere in the world, battle to see a return on their innovation investment. The biggest culprits for the lack of results are:

  • Inadequate funding
  • no collaboration
  • haphazard or little implementation and
  • a lack of measurement practise

So how do winners at innovation get their innovation efforts to pay off?

From what we have seen in the SA Innovation League and filtered by our learnings elsewhere, this non-exhaustive list will probably go far in helping you see the better side of effective innovation management practise:

  1. Understand where you are. Before setting out on the journey a useful first step is to gauge where you are at and what your innovation capabilities are. The answer to that question can’t be found in management notes or in departmental meetings. Understanding the current state of innovation in your business means asking key questions around a number of areas including tools, culture and strategy.
  2. Set a destination. Having established where your organisation is today you can set a destination of travel and benchmark for the future. Innovation cannot be viewed in isolation.
  3. Know that innovation requires strategic intent. You know what it means. Strategic projects have a plan, goals, budget, resources, metrics and gets managed as such. View innovation with the same lens and you are halfway there.
  4. Innovation workshops are just that. They get people to spend time together. Some thought should go into it, stakeholders should be carefully chosen and a concrete action plan should move you forward in a tangible way. If not, the fun time together as a team will be all you gain from it. Do more than workshop.
  5. Innovation is about people. Its motherhood and apple pie – get the culture conducive and your efforts will go further. Yes, it takes time.
  6. Innovation software is a cornerstone. But not a guarantee. It needs to be used correctly, and be managed for results. You need to know how to use it effectively. Intuitive innovation systems does not imply automatic results.
  7. Take responsibility. Preferably at executive level. And that implies reporting on results often while driving strategic alignment and checking for balance.
  8. Stay at the edge. How do you stay on top of trends, validate, test and work with your ecosystem to gain insights? Is that enough?
  9. Collaborate better. Have a plan for How, when and with whom? Do you regularly engage with your partners, clients and ecosystem. Internally, externally and across industry? How is this governed? Do you innovate with your clients to drive new value? These questions should be asked today, at every level of your organisation.
  10. Create projects to get to market. Implement ideas that matter. Expert teams that consists of internal as well as external players will make a difference and alleviate internal constraints. Get them to work together and deliver, to get to market.
  11. Commit to the journey. Employees are more likely to prioritise and take innovation seriously if senior management is seen driving the conversation and activity on a regular basis. Full management sponsorship creates momentum.

Your “relationship” with innovation is like any other.  A match in personality will drive your goals, for the rest it is about realistic expectations, backing up intentions, hard work to constantly fuel the fire but most of all, it is about commitment. How committed are you to the future of your organisation?