Innovation’s “Uncharted Waters”

(This piece was originally posted to the HeroX blog)

A few years ago, Wazoku, a UK idea management software company, sponsored an innovation survey. The results of the survey are a cause of concern for anyone interested in corporate innovation. 

Full 85 percent of respondents to the survey –  board members, senior and middle managers, and line workers within large UK enterprises – considered innovation important to their companies. Yet 53 percent of surveyed managers were unaware of their organization’s definition of innovation and how it fits into wider corporate goals; 38 percent of them said innovation wasn’t their responsibility because it wasn’t in their job descriptions.

A lack of understanding of what innovation means – in general, and for any organization, in particular – remains one of the most serious problems facing corporate innovation. Even many CEOs aren’t immune to this “disease,” but at the lower organizational levels, almost everyone is affected.

No single fix exists to solve the problem. However, the organizations that are new to the structured innovation process – or the ones that experience troubles in running effective innovation programs – may consider a solution that looks deceptively simple and yet may prove surprisingly effective. 

This solution is to create a corporate Innovation Charter. There are at least three reasons why the Innovation Charter could help organizations innovate better.

The Innovation Charter outlines major aspects of the company’s innovation strategy.

The major objective of the Innovation Charter is to outline what innovation means for this specific organization. It should explain where the company stands today; where the company wants to be in a few years; how the gap is to be bridged, and what role innovation should play in this process. The clarity about the place innovation occupies within the framework of the general corporate strategy will help select and support appropriate innovation programs. 

Equally important, the Innovation Charter would help create a common innovation language, the lack of which often results in a communication wall between the innovation team and the rest of the organization.

The Innovation Charter creates the innovation “law of the land.”

CEOs are routinely blamed for the lack of attention to innovation. But let’s face it: they are very busy people in charge of everything, and it’s plain unrealistic to expect them to pay undivided attention to innovation, a continuous process with no evident need for day-to-day executive control.

So, instead of asking the CEO for constant intervention, the innovation team should create the Innovation Charter and ask the CEO to explicitly endorse it. With this endorsement, the innovation team can claim executive support even when the attention of the executive leaders will inevitably shift to other priorities.

In other words, the Innovation Charter establishes the innovation “law of the land.” Sure, like any other law, it needs periodic re-enforcement, but it still helps maintain order even when “the cops are away.”

The Innovation Charter makes innovation “everyone’s business.”

Corporate innovation can only succeed if it’ll expand from the traditional R&D or product development units to departments that are not directly involved in innovation programs (manufacturing, finance, HR, etc.). Unfortunately, very often, the corporate structure is too rigid, too “anti-matrix,” to allow innovation to become “everyone’s business.”

Realistically, not everyone in the company will be willing to assume an extra-load that participation in innovation activities demands. But even those who are, often can’t get involved because of the pressure of their everyday tasks. Here, the Innovation Charter can help too as it provides an explicit mandate to get involved in innovation activities, something that even all-powerful mid-level managers can’t easily ignore.

In other words, the Innovation Charter sends a message to the whole organization: “Yes, you can and you should!”

Image credit: https://callnewspapers.com/charter-citizens-bill-of-rights-is-rejected-wont-go-to-voters/

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is the Founder of (WoC)2, an innovation consultancy that helps organizations extract maximum value from the wisdom of crowds by coordinated use of internal and external crowdsourcing.
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