How can you make a habit out of innovation?

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Daniel Lock

It’s easy to say you want to become an innovator in business yet it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that you actually have to do something to make it happen. That could mean some pretty key changes in the way you do business.

But how do you protect your company, keep some semblance of an organisational structure, and minimise costly expenditures while still achieving a successful process for innovation?

Here are 3 ideas on what it takes to successfully build innovation into your company's DNA.

#1: Establish Smart Management

The title "Chief Innovation Officer" is one that would have gotten business executives scratching their heads before a few years ago. And yet today, companies like Marsh and McLennan, Airbus, Walgreens, and even some local governments have created the position.

It doesn't take rocket science to know that you can't just say you want to be innovative you actually have to do something about it!

Essentially, it means that there’s a senior executive charged with facilitating and motivating groundbreaking products, concepts, or even discussions. They might do everything from helping to foster and grow a new mindset to establishing new avenues for communication between divisions. They might also spearhead campaigns to get staff members working together on a global level.

In the case of the local governments in San Francisco and Philadelphia, such officers are the first of their kind. Their primary purpose is to connect city hall with the potential problem solvers outside their government walls. Constructing innovation process management such as this keeps the concept of an "innovative department" small, with some companies having the officer only, with no one directly beneath him or her. However, what it does do is allow for businesses to grow their innovative and inventive power without creating undue confusion.

#2: Setup cross-functional, diverse teams

What is process innovation when it comes to cross-functional teams? More and more companies are turning to taskforces and focus groups that draw from a myriad of resources to get the job done. The theory here is that even if you’re trying to, say, build a better bicycle, the engineers you have on staff aren’t the only experts on the subject. What about the customers? The salespeople?

It’s easy to miss a potentially groundbreaking idea when you limit your brainpower to a single group of people.

Speaking of bicycles, Shimano, a company that develops bicycle components for both the professional and the average user, used the cross-functional team concept to drive product innovation rather than limit their thinking to one department, or to even limit their resource base to their employees. Instead, they gathered together research and development staff, engineers, personnel from their Japanese factories, employees, and consumers of every type, from athletes to the so-called "weekend warriors."

This collaboration of a diverse group of people was able to offer the designers a type of feedback that they couldn’t see in a simulation and that a computer would have been unable to provide. The result? Novel derailleur designs for the new XT/XTR Saint and Shadow bikes.

#3: Find Innovative Ways to Implement

Perhaps the biggest challenge to achieving innovative success is figuring out just what (and how) to innovate. You can’t just decide to build something new, snap your fingers, and get it done! What many companies are discovering is that to successfully bring about the "what," the "how" must come first. It’s implementation that matters. The ideas and products that come out of an organization are correlated to the way the minds and talent behind the process for innovation were structured.

There are companies like Malaysia Airlines, which creates "laboratories" on an ad hoc basis, bringing them together for a short period of time to address a specific issue. When the issue is solved, the people involved go their separate ways. In this way, the company is able to minimize change to the corporate structure while still creating a forum for people to exchange information and build on one another.

At the other end of the spectrum is a company like Proctor and Gamble, which developed "new growth factories." These factories involved coming up with a way to systemize innovation. Entire structures were overhauled and new levels built up that included creation groups, project teams, and entrepreneurial guides. Their experience suggests a number of important factors to keep in mind, such as coordinating the factory with the company’s core business, starting small and growing carefully, and making sure the right people are doing the right work.

The type of tactics you employ to building a business process model that supports innovation and unique ways of looking at pretty much everything is more about structure and process. A good process combined with faith to take on a little risk can help to make it big in the innovation game.

What do you think? What are some of the things you can do to make innovation a habit at your business?