Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Seven Principles for Launching
an Internal Corporate Innovation Team





By Mohan Nair
Senior Vice President, Chief Innovation Officer
Cambia Health Solutions







Many organizations create innovative solutions that dominate markets for some time going forward, but there comes a time when those organizations spend most of their time maintaining their leadership--and the  status quo--because they have become the organization to beat. This behavior, over time, becomes the very behavior that destroys innovative actions within the employee base. The mindset becomes, why rock the boat when there seems to be such smooth, successful sailing?  Few companies in this category behave differently. Unfortunately, these companies are often replacing themselves long before others do it to them.  

Innovating culture can take a long time to create and a few minutes to destroy because it is a fragile element of the vast enterprise value creating system.  Like the nervous system is to the human structure, this system functions independently from the bone structure but keeps it in motion at all times in its own way.  Innovation officers know this well. They tap into this system to generate ideas that turn markets and create the future in the present.

Seven Principles To Assist You In Designing Ideas That Turn Into Markets:

1. Find a Core Purpose or Reason for Being

Ideas can come and go but ideas for a greater cause fuel themselves. The era of taking orders is still around but fast losing steam in our new economy.  Build to change the way things are and you will find people who see the reason to join you.  The younger generation tends to place purpose over money in many jobs selections.  There are reasons finding meaning beyond yourself generates fuel for innovation.

2. People > Ideas

Innovation is always fueled by ideas in an objective-driven economy.  But in the next century, people will be the ones who take ideas to the future.  Invest your energy in people and the ideas will come. Why?  Because people will feel the value of corporations moving from output to the  people generating the output.  We often speak of the death of loyalty in corporations.  Be the opposite and win because loyalty comes with how you engage others in co-creating the future. 

3. Start Small, Think Big

Many innovation programs are launched with a lot of noise but they usually fall short of value creation. Instead, launch small but think big.  Small  budgets, big ideas.  Small  teams, big outputs.  More can always be done with less, especially when organizations can be shown how to get one thing done quickly.

4. Practice What You Preach

Innovation teams organize ideas, coach ideas into programs and also ensure that those ideas get noticed.  Few and more effective teams actually are the change they wish to create.  They build things, they create their own ideas as well as coach ideas; they are the very examples of what a leader should do.

5. Build Both Human and Technology Systems

Innovation teams who want to collect ideas immediately search for technology that crowd sources ideas and can graduate ideas with votes etc. This is a very valuable way to gain scale and challenge the enterprise.  This is half of the challenge.  The other half is the processes people go through to come up with an idea. How does the manager think about ideas being worked on in the first place?  Will someone share their idea if they get no reward for stepping outside the box?  These are small examples of the list of human system challenges that must be addressed and designed into or out of the activity of enterprise-wide innovation.

Operational ideas find a pathway while transformational ideas are killed to remove waste or variation because that is the goal of operational systems. So, we must live with two systems – an operational system and an innovation system.

6. Enable, Accelerate, Then Create

When I first took over as Chief Innovation Officer over four years ago, I was eager to produce shocking new solutions in healthcare.  I felt it was my role to disrupt the market.  My CEO gave me sound advice in my new role, and suggested I create a new paradigm of culture in the organization.  He advised me not to shock the system with the obvious angle of incidence expected but instead to be of service to others in their need to innovate.  I then began to enable others in their ideas and focused my team on “servant leadership” and being humble with our capability but audacious with our goals.  We now focus on helping others, accelerating a few to success and then creating the future rapidly.

To launch an innovation initiative, you should consider first helping and enabling others to think and do new things; then be the example to accelerate a big problem using the talents of your innovation team. Finally, you may consider designing and launching companies and products that open new markets.

7. Lead Down, Ideas Up

Many organizations that have succeeded enough to dominate markets get there through great leadership. The organization generally would acknowledge that leadership and creativity were essential to getting the company where it is.  Subtle but problematic is when the enterprise takes its lead from leaders and not from everyone else closer to the customers.  For innovation programs to succeed, they must be led top-down but enable ideas bottom up.  When everything comes top-down--including ideas and direction followed--we cannot redefine the future, we just live in the present without the collective attentiveness of the enterprise.

A culture of innovation in the enterprise has always been a competitive advantage.  But now more than ever, hyper-competiveness in the world of more unknowns than knowns puts incredible pressure on our ability to gather and harness insights into products or services.  Moreover, when an economy is propelled by more than money but also by purpose-driven motivations, new markets can appear while some are asleep at the wheel.  To stay awake and live the future, innovation must be practical and within the reach of all in the enterprise.

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Mohan Nair is Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer at Cambia Health Solutions, Inc. in Portland Oregon.  He is author of “Strategic Business Transformation: The 7 Deadly Sins to Avoid” (Wiley: 2011. New Jersey)
For more information follow him at @mohanemerge 


(C) 2016 by Mohan Nair

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