Much has been written about the importance of innovation but there is very little information in circulation about how to actually stimulate innovation. While most executives and entrepreneurs have come to accept the concept of innovation management as a legitimate business practice, in theory, I have found very few organizations that have effectively integrated innovation as a core discipline and focus area. In today’s blog post I’ll discuss how to actually implement a program to stimulate and manage innovation.

Before I address how to create innovation, if you need a refresher course on the need for innovation you can get a quick review by reading “ROI Reexamined” and “Collaborate, Innovate and Dominate.” While the old saying “if it isn’t broke don’t fix it” makes for a great sound bite it can cause irreparable harm to a company’s ability to remain competitive if adopted as an operating philosophy. It is a business’s ability to use innovation to create, refine, enhance, optimize, and advance all areas of the value chain that will catalyze sustainable growth.

While there is always room for a great idea created through spontaneous innovation this random approach to innovation rarely works. Spontaneous innovation (what I like to call innovation by default) is at best a very undisciplined and very expensive path to change. Conversely, high-velocity innovation (what I like to call innovation by design) occurs when supported by a solid process and managed as an asset.

Since the end of the nineteenth-century architects have relied on the innovation management process pioneered by the French known as a “design charrette” to create high value, optimized solutions to design problems. Design charrettes consist of a very intense multidisciplinary approach to a brainstorming session in which design issues are assessed, analyzed, debated, conceptualized, enhanced, value-engineered and planned. It is through this process that many of the world’s most amazing architectural feats have been accomplished.

Much like the architect’s use of design charrettes, operating executives need to adopt a process to stimulate, manage, and implement innovation. The following steps outline a simple process that any business can use to effectively leverage innovation:

  1. Problem Definition and Opportunity Identification: Using the company’s vision, mission, and strategy as the foundation the executive leadership needs to identify key problems, significant barriers or obstacles, critical areas of risk as well as major opportunities for which solutions need to be developed.
  2. Develop High-Velocity Innovation Teams: Based upon the assessments and objectives identified during step one outlined above executives need to create innovation teams comprised of the right blend of skill sets, competencies, and talent and charge them with the development of innovation recommendations. These teams need to be comprised of both left and right-brainers, new employees who have not been prejudiced and seasoned veterans as well as introverts and extraverts. Each team must have a designated leader in the form of an innovation champion with all other members of the team being equals regardless of their titles and positions.
  3. Innovation Reports: Each innovation team should be charged with the responsibility of creating a written innovation report on a time period certain. The innovation report should provide the company’s executive team with defined strategic recommendations to accomplish the stated objectives.

Simply following the three steps outlined above will focus your best talent on solving your most critical problems and exploiting your biggest opportunities. Innovation must be driven both from the top-down and the bottom-up. Senior leadership must make innovation a clearly communicated priority and then support the message by creating process, allocating budget, adding headcount, refocusing priorities, making changes to job descriptions, and re-engineering compensation plans. This type of commitment will show management and staff that the leadership is serious about innovation and will encourage participation at all levels of the enterprise.