By Eric van Niekerk – Research Lead, Innocentrix

Innovation has a near infinite scope of possibilities and outcomes, if no direction is given to innovation, there can be little control over the outcome. In order to run a successful innovation drive, innovation needs to be the enabler of the organisation’s strategic goals. That is the reason that we act on innovation – to enable growth, to create the future for the organisation and to ensure that business strategies pays off.

To ensure that your innovation efforts are more than a nice-to-have and move beyond initial incremental improvements, plan your portfolio to directly address organisational challenges or to identify internal opportunities. Through the use of Innovation Challenges, companies can steer innovation efforts to deliver specific results that will facilitate growth in an organisation.

Innovation Challenge?

An Innovation Challenge is a directive guideline highlighting a focus-area in need of innovation. The aim of an Innovation Challenge is to raise awareness of a problem, and to explain what type of solution is required. The challenge can then be given to a select section of employees, all employees of an organisation, or even individuals outside the organisation. The reasoning behind creating an Innovation Challenge is to ensure that each member is aware of exactly what the problem is, and what type of solution is required.

A quote often attributed to Albert Einstein reads, “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.” This highlights the fact that coming to a comprehensive understanding of a problem is the greatest challenge when searching for solutions. Once an encompassing understanding of the problem can be created, a solution will be easier to find.

Below are some thoughts and guidelines for creating impactful Innovation Challenges within your own organisation, focusing the results of your innovation drive towards better results.

1. Be Solution Orientated

An organisation needs to identify a problem that could benefit from an innovative solution. When describing your challenge, ensure that a single objective is given: A call for a solution that will solve the challenge. Ensure that a challenge requires one working solution, if a challenge could benefit from several largely unrelated solutions working together, try to break the challenge down into several different parts.

A challenge should also not, intentionally or unintentionally, pose a solution. Ensure that the challenge calls for an open-ended approach to solving the problem. Though, this can be a double edged sword; challenges should not be so open that they are vague in their call for solutions. Consider the following example:

A chain retail store issues the following challenge: “How do we improve customer experience in our stores?” This challenge is open ended yet too vague, and will generate a wide variety of solutions that may or may not be applicable to the retailer. Consider: “How do we ensure shorter queue times for shoppers?” Or “How could the store be adapted to facilitate a more visually appealing shopping experience?”

Defining a focused challenge requires some thinking and careful planning upfront. For instance, you need to understand not only the context and detail of the problem you are trying to solve, but also the audience you want involved in the ideation process, the reviewers you should have on board for down selection, as well as the metrics that would be applicable in moving ideas forward.

2. Qualified Review Process

After a challenge has been created, and solutions have been suggested, it is necessary to select the best ones. Ensure that whatever process you use to select ideas is fair and unbiased. If you choose a peer review option for ideas, add extra steps to guarantee that it is not the most popular employee whose idea is selected, but the most deserving. If a panel option is used, make sure that panel members are varied, available, cognisant of their roles in the process and knowledgeable about company structures and processes. Are they willing to incorporate innovative ideas and do they have the necessary power to move ideas towards implementation?

3. Reward

To ensure participation in an innovation challenge, it may be necessary to offer some form of reward for the best ideas. This will motivate employees to not only participate, but to apply themselves and make themselves heard. Innovation reward can be a difficult topic to navigate and needs to be relevant. It is a good idea to change reward per challenge but again this will remain anchored in your own organisational context. Be sure to have a look at one of our previous articles on Employee Reward.

Signs of a Good Challenge

According to Jonathan Slater, an international expert in Open Innovation boasting many years of experience and one of Innocentrix’s House of Brands partners, the following points are signs of a good challenge:

  • A challenge should be rich in information, with well-defined criteria for success;
  • A challenge should be managed by the person who is seeking the solution, as there is a higher chance that they will apply the solutions;
  • A challenge should define all the “black spaces” – all the solutions that have already been tried previously;
  • A challenge must be worded and abstracted to elicit the most diverse and innovative responses – this will hopefully provide the most original and breakthrough ideas.

Good Luck!

Innovation challenges are a great way to get your employees and your organisation accustomed to the idea of innovation. It is also a solid platform to show relevant returns to organisational executives. Good luck with implementing your innovation challenges.