All organisations seek innovation from within. The technology team now finds itself at the forefront of change and in introducing technological innovation that enhances organisational ambition. But how? A culture of encouraging innovation is complex and challenging – it must be led from the top and encompass a true understanding of the psychology of ideation and the focus for where innovation can add most value.

This article is republished with permission of Shackleton investee company, CIO Connect.  It was prepared by CIO Connect CEO, Nick Kirkland

CIO Connect runs vibrant networks of CIOs in leading organisations in the UK, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Organisations seek innovation – but all too often they don’t like the resulting ideas. These usually question the status quo and involve change. The best organisations see this as opportunity, but too many see it as a challenge. These organisations focus innovation effort towards a defined goal – more money; more growth; outperform competitors; and so on.

Organisational culture is key – get this right and everything else follows. The cultural solution is much more than ‘leading from the top’ – there must be psychological safety, a willingness to get behind and execute on the valuable new ideas, a process to ensure ideas are focussed and the development of co-creation such that everyone involved has ‘skin in the game’.

Organisations have long encouraged innovation methods – ‘brainstorming’ is as common as any other business practice and it has had some success in engaging teams and individuals. Nowadays, we have become excited with creating workplaces that encourage ideas – from ideation areas, to ideation hats, sheds, play areas and all kinds of things that perhaps are designed to bring out the child in us all. This makes everyone feel really good – but does it actually lead to ideas of value to the organisation?

Ask yourself – how and when do you have your better ideas?

For most, it is when carrying out mundane activities – driving, showering, running or listening to the radio. Seldom do these ideas occur in the workplace. There is a simple reason for this – the brain likes to think awhile. It likes to make connections and this can take time and cannot be hurried (though it can be focused and encouraged). When we are doing these mundane activities our sub conscious kicks in and starts to solve problems – and bingo – we have a great idea!

However, ideas are easy and numerous and generally of low value in isolation.

So, now we have the basis by which individuals ideate – we next have to work out how to create organisational value by encouraging and focussing.

Start by asking the right questions:

  • Why do we need to innovate, as an organisation?
  • What is the focus for innovation – where is the priority and where can most value be created?
  • How would we assess and test ideas?
  • Do we have a diverse range of people, with different perspectives, involved in the conversation?
  • How can we bring people and ideas together in an environment that leads to joined up thinking with different parties all wanting something out of the innovation?

Clarity in these areas should help to develop an organisational approach to both encouraging innovation where it is needed most and ensure a process by which ideas can be developed and trialled.

There are many ways to encourage innovation, but the best way is to build it into your organisation strategy, so it becomes part of what you do, not an add on. If it is planned, measured and valued, then innovation becomes part of mainstream and will be treated with less suspicion.

Time must be given:

  • to lead innovation and ensure it is focussed while understanding that sometimes an element of ‘chaos’ can be helpful.
  • to define the problem – what is it that isn’t working? Give reasons specifically why?
  • to develop ideas and encouraging a culture where ideas are not ‘forced’ but allowed to mature – both through the sub conscious as well as through discussion and networking.
  • to progress ideas and combinations of ideas, allowing that some will not complete, but celebrating their existence.
  • to thoughtful implementation that engages people affected in the benefits and reasons.

If it is done well, then individuals will set their brains on ideation 24/7 focused on the priority needs – and a better quality of idea will be discussed, debated and grown.

[What you must do now – the CIO Connect recommendation]: Innovation is not new to CIOs but what is new is the level of demand for it from the technology team. So maybe now is the time to take a fresh approach? Pull a team together from inside and outside IT to ask the questions posed above and start to build the agenda for innovation that aligns with and integrates with the business strategy.

Following the guidance in this POV should help to create a new, exciting, involving and valuable way forward.