Jun 13, 2012

Make innovation a part of your culture

To have the insights necessary to create value for customers, a company must identify the established beliefs within the business that unconsciously constrain creative thinking. These beliefs can be ingrained at various levels. So the first step in overcoming your organization's dominant logic is starting a process of organizational self-discovery to unearth misguided belief systems. Here is a good article from OpenForum on how to start integrating innovation into your culture:

Think back to the last time you came up with a really great idea. If you are like many of us, I’m willing to bet that you were in a relaxed setting and told a friend or co-worker about it and then moved on. It wasn’t until months later when the idea sprang into your head again that you realized you hadn’t done anything about it.

This scenario is all too common, especially in the life of the time-strapped. To make sure you and your team's best innovative ideas get implemented, you have to manage them–like any other aspect of your business.

Here are five ways to capture your innovations and put them into practice:

1) Get down to basics. Innovation doesn’t have to be rocket science. Ken Tencer, CEO of Sypderworks, a brand management firm in Toronto, offers the example of fledging cantaloupe sales at grocery stores. It wasn’t until stores came up with the idea of chopping up melons and packaging them in plastic containers that sales saw an increase.

He recommends sitting down with your team to discuss basic things that give you or your client problems. Keep spitballing until you come up with something that sticks. Tencer recently did this in his own organization when looking for new talent. Instead of spending thousands on hiring a recruiting agency, he put up an ad on LinkedIn and, for less than $300, found several viable candidates.

“Of course I had to vet them, but it was worth it to me and that was an innovation that helped my company internally,” he notes.

2) Schedule a recurring meeting. Every other week, a cross-divisional team at Popcorn, Indiana, an Englewood, N.J.-based ready-made popcorn provider, meets to brainstorm new ideas and discuss changes in the marketplace. The gathering is labeled "Innovation Thursday." At the end, a subset group breaks off to distill ideas, prototype products and then presents them at the next meeting.The process works and the company is growing rapidly. According to CEO Hitesh Hajarnavis, since the company’s founding in 2006, it has captured around 10 percent market share and boasts revenues north of $50 million.

“I attribute these numbers to our institutionalized culture of innovation,” he says.

At an Innovation Thursday meeting in summer 2010, the team discussed how to spruce up its holiday product. The addition to chocolate was brought up and six weeks later the company was ready to market its new chocolate drizzled popcorn.

“We really rocked that one; it sold out almost immediately,” beams Hajarnavis, adding that the company now offers the variety from October through March.

3) Talk to your customers. At least once per year, Tencer recommends touching base with each customer for a non-salesy meeting. Ask what issues they are facing in their business across all disciplines, not just related to your offering.

4) Hold an annual summit. Meeting every other week is great, but it’s also good to get a high level view of how far your team has come. Tencer suggests reviewing innovation campaigns that worked and those that failed. Talk about what you’ve seen from suppliers and how to be more innovative next year.

5) Make innovation a serious strategy. Just like you track marketing and sales efforts, Tencer says it’s important to track innovation efforts.