Survival of The Fittest

Based on our work with pioneering enterprises in Silicon Valley and around the globe we have learned a great deal about what makes innovation prosper. This article reveals some surprising insights on how prepared our institutions are to successfully compete for the future.

Is your organization’s innovation fitness level high enough to thrive in today’s fast-paced and hyper-competitive global economy?

Hundreds of you answered this question over the past six months using our free online assessment. Now we have results to share about the ability of different types of organizations to effectively create new business value. You can compare the innovation strengths and weaknesses of your organization with other participants. This article reveals some surprising insights on how prepared our institutions are to successfully compete for the future.

If you haven’t taken the survey, you might want to check it out it prior to reading this article. With only 10 questions, it is a quick and easy self-assessment to complete. I don’t want to bias your results.

Innovation fitness

Based on our work with pioneering enterprises in Silicon Valley and around the globe (e.g., BBC, Panera Bread, IBM, IDEO, Toyota, Swisscom, Phillips, Stanford University, Kaiser Permanente), we have learned a great deal about what makes innovation prosper. The survey focuses on 10 innovation success factors (metrics, mindset, tools, etc.) that separate the peak performers from poorly conditioned organizations who find themselves unfit to deliver innovative solutions to the market on a consistent basis. If you and your organization are going to succeed in this world, you must build and keep your innovation muscles strong. We know that only the fittest survive.

Survey results

From June through November 2015, 432 people completed the Innovation Fitness Survey. Overall the result paints a dim picture of the current level of innovation fitness among participating organizations. Our data shows most organizations have a great deal of room for improvement, only Innovation Leadership had a mean rating above 3.0 on our 1-5 Likert scale. The list below ranks the innovation fitness factors based on overall average rating.

AVG  FITNESS FACTOR

3.19 Innovation Leadership
2.94   Employee Engagement
2.84   Open Innovation
2.83   Market Inspiration
2.80   Collaborative Culture
2.79   Breakthrough Ideas
2.65   Innovation Tools
2,54   Sponsors and Resources
2.53   Management Accountability
2.35   Innovation Training
My analysis focuses on the extreme scores. In future articles I will delve deeper into the nuances of the data and also explore the differences between industries.

The good news: biggest strength is best asset

Leaders who do not treat innovation as a priority simply cede opportunity to those do.

Leaders who do not treat innovation as a priority simply cede opportunity to those who do. When it comes to innovation, research shows the aspiration level of the leader has the biggest impact on whether their people consistently out-think, out-create, and outperform the competition. The obvious examples are Steve Job’s and his invitation to his employees to “think differently” and his goal of putting a “ding in the universe”. And for those of you in the public sector, President John F. Kennedy is the standard-bearer. His bold aspiration, in 1962, to “go to the moon in this decade” motivated a nation to unprecedented levels of innovation. An audacious vision can be a compelling catalyst, provided it’s realistic enough to stimulate action today.

For those of you who struggle to innovate within your organization, imagine the boost your efforts would receive from a leadership team that committed itself to a widely shared “stretch vision”. What if they acted in full alignment with the intended future and modeled the necessary innovation practices? What if they embraced their natural optimism and become an appreciative audience for creative ideas, asking inspiring questions, encouraging collaboration, freeing up resources, and clearing paths through the bureaucracy? These behaviors are especially important for novel or disruptive ideas that are harder to conceive and easier to kill.

Having the highest mean of the innovation fitness factors gives me hope, because like most things organizational, the gap between “good” and “great” is leadership.

More good news: biggest weakness can be easily addressed

I believe in a model where everyone, everywhere, is responsible for innovation everyday – whether as an Idea generator, mentor, sponsor, facilitator or team member. This model is best served with an inclusive training approach aimed at establishing common innovation language, concepts, and practices across the enterprise. Employees up and down the hierarchy should all be able to:

  • Identify significant innovation opportunities
  • Generate creative solutions
  • Develop strong value propositions
  • Communicate ideas in a clear and compelling manner
  • Create cost effective prototypes of their ideas
  • Collaborate effectively with colleagues to rapidly improve ideas

Collectively, these skills are the cornerstone for establishing a discipline of innovation. They go beyond learning about innovation and emphasize teaching people how it is done.

The suggestions that follow are targeted at engaging your entire workforce and can be combined to accelerate and sustain adoption.

  • Onboarding: Set expectations of innovation during the new hire orientation (e.g. describe “how we innovate around here” and be clear ev­eryone has two jobs (i.e., deliver on your present assignment and participate in inventing a better future)).
  • Innovation Bootcamps: Train the entire workforce in your innovation methods, especially management. Developing the capabilities of managers will have a profound and positive ripple effect on the enterprise and its bottom line. Once they have grasped the tools and techniques, they can become innovation coaches and ambassadors. Remember the point I made earlier in this article about the importance of leadership.
  • Project Launches: Use the kick-off of new projects and initiatives as a teaching moment to train or reinforce the organization’s discipline of innovation.
  • Online Learning: Take advantage of elearning to bring visibility and impact to your innovation efforts at a significantly lower cost than in person training. Use your LMS or subscribe to cloud based solutions like One Hour Innovator to easily scale your teaching.

These training efforts build professional skills, increase employee engagement, and inspire workers to demonstrate their initiative and leadership capabilities. If woven together properly, these approaches can foster an exciting “can do” culture that helps attract and retain innovators.

Conclusion

Working with your leaders to start an innovation fitness program may be one of the best things you can do for your organization’s health. Innovation activity can reduce your organization’s risk of chronic bureaucracy, improve speed, agility, and stamina, and bring new value to the market on a consistent basis. The business benefits from implementing a program that addresses the weakest innovation factors are clear. With the development of a single good idea, the program can pay for itself many times over. While there are numerous places to begin, if you want your employees to embrace an “intrapreneurial” mindset and generate bigger ideas that move the needle, bolder ideas that change the game, and better ideas that have a high success rate, I would start by teaching them how to innovate.

The only source of innovation in business is the individual employee. When workers become more innovative, organizations become more innovative.

Steven Lundin, PHD and Author of Fish: A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results

For those of you who have not completed the survey, you can still get a free excerpt from my book, Creating Value with CO-STAR. For those of you who have already completed the survey you can email me and I will send you an Open Innovation starter kit.

If you would like to learn more about innovation fitness, I encourage you to read my initial innovation fitness article. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at Gyorffy@enterprisedevelop.com.

By Laszlo Gyorffy

About the author


Laszlo Gyorffy, M.S. is President of the Enterprise Development Group. For over 20 years, Laszlo has worked with organizations around the globe to expand the possible; helping them refocus, redesign, and reenergize their business strategies and innovation practices to succeed in an increasingly dynamic and demanding market place. Laszlo is an accomplished speaker and author of Creating Value with CO-STAR: An Innovation Tool for Perfecting and Pitching your Brilliant Idea as well an opening chapter on innovation leadership in the textbook The Global Innovation Science Handbook. He is a certified instructional designer and trainer and has delivered transformational programs like the Innovation Advantage and the Secrets of Silicon Valley. Laszlo recently developed the One Hour Innovator, a cloud-based toolkit that helps people innovate better, faster, and smarter. The methods used in these trainings and tools have created business solutions worth millions of dollars in new revenue and cost efficiencies.

Photo: Runner Feet by Shutterstock.com

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