Organizations that consistently deliver innovation do so because their employees have the skills to effectively explore, understand, diagnose, analyze, model, create, invent, solve, communicate, and implement concepts, ideas, and insights. These are all attributes that we might consider facets of “learning,” and naturally enough any organization that thrives in a rapidly changing environment necessarily has developed the capability to learn and to apply that learning to keep up with external changes.
Certainly the link between learning and innovation is a strong one, and clearly speed matters. The faster people in a company can learn, the faster they can apply that learning to create the next product, service and business model. By creating a positive and self-reinforcing feedback loop of accelerated learning to create innovation, organizations then obtain more learning, leading to more innovation. The results are manifold: shorter product life cycles, which leads to quicker learning, yet shorter product life cycles, better profits, etc., all contributing to competitive advantage.
To support the acceleration of learning and innovation we have found that the proper infrastructure tools make a big difference. The four key infrastructure elements are open innovation, effective collaboration, the virtual workplace, and the design of the physical work place.
While in the past many organizations kept the innovation process closely guarded as an in house secret, these same companies have recently discovered that seeking new product ideas from outside can significantly improve the flow of new opportunities. Applying the principles of open innovation can significantly accelerate the pace of innovation, as well as its effectiveness. Open innovation means expanding the pool of participants in the innovation process to all types of outsiders, including customers, suppliers, partners, and community members, tapping into ideas, critical thinking, and advice.
Everyone who works in the field of innovation agrees that collaboration is vital to success at innovation. Mastering and applying the principles of effective collaboration, not only for pairs and small groups, but also for groups of tens or even hundreds of people requires facilitation skills to help nurture new ideas and turn them into effective innovation, and the benefits can be significant.
As we spend more and more time working and collaborating on line with our internal colleagues and with outside partners, customers, and vendors, the quality of our tools and our skill in using them can make a significant difference in the productivity of our innovation efforts. Active engagement in the selection and adoption of the right tools is a simple but fundamental rule to follow.
As MIT Professor Tom Allen puts it in the lively book he co-authored with architect Gunter Henn called The Organization and Architecture of Innovation, “Most managers will likely acknowledge the critical role played by organizational structure in the innovation process, but few understand that physical space is equally important. It has tremendous influence on how and where communication takes place, on the quality of that communication, and on the movements – and hence, all interactions – of people within an organization. In fact, some of the most prevalent design elements of buildings nearly shut down the opportunities for the organizations that work within their walls to thrive and innovate. Hence, the implications of physical space for the innovation process are profound.”
The essentials for effective innovation are thinking, creating, problem-solving, and collaborating, and we know that the work place that best supports them is not a traditional conference room, but a mush better work environment that is designed for innovation.
These four elements, open innovation, collaboration, the virtual workplace, and the physical workplace constitute the critical elements of the innovation infrastructure, and it is by providing these tools to the innovative people in your organization that you can help them do their best to develop the innovations that will compose your organization’s future.
By Langdon Morris
Langdon Morris is a co-founder of InnovationLabs LLC, one of the world’s leading innovation consultancies.
Langdon is also a Contributing Editor and Writer of Innovation Management, Associate Editor of the International Journal of Innovation Science, a member of the Scientific Committee of Business Digest, Paris, and Editor of the Aerospace Technology Working Group Innovation Series.
He is author, co-author, or editor of eight books on innovation and strategy, and a frequent speaker at innovation conferences worldwide. He has lectured at universities on 4 continents.
The Innovation Master Plan: The CEO’s Guide to Innovation is now available at Amazon.com.