Innovation projects can be very exiting. It can give you a new space to unleash your creative potential and enliven your passion and at the same time contribute to the top-line for your company. Unlike startups where you need to innovate and the same time worry about the paycheck, Innovating in large companies gives you that extra cushion allowing you to give your 100% to incubate new products and services. However, being a team member of the innovation project and carrying out activities requires a new bent of mind. This is especially true if you are jumping-in into this space after spending many years executing standardized set of process and activities.
I spent close to 5 years in my career in three different innovation projects with some success where I had force myself out from one of them return back into my core area of expertise. But this is in no way a reflection of me or my teams ability to innovate to meet the business objectives, but rather the environment was less conducive for innovation activities which was influenced by host of factors. Nevertheless, my learning during this time has been tremendously useful. I learnt the innovation process, how to incubate new solutions, build cross functional relationships within the company and finally I got a great knowledge of the industry.
So If you are contemplating on joining a innovation team, or spotted and innovation opportunity or simply want to understand what to consider before jumping into a innovation role, following tips can come in handy.
Personal Readiness: Make sure that your heart and mind are in agreement and you are psychologically prepared to spend months or years in this role. Spending time in solitude is one of the ways when creative ideas can emerge and if you were like me who was action oriented, you should be prepared to take a step back and allow the intellect to function. Placing a daily schedule for exercising and relaxation can prepare you for the innovation role. Secondly review the innovation process outlined by the project team and evaluate if you can execute well across all the stages. You may have to move out of your comfort zone by spending time in both technology and business aspects.
Innovation Culture: With fast changing tech and global companies adopting bottoms-up approach for innovation, you could be in a company with strong culture for innovation. But what’s more important to evaluate here is the innovation culture within your specific business unit or function. What is your CEOs or VPs key expectation from your business unit ? Is it delivering great customer experience ? or innovating new products and solution ? The responses to these question allows you to understand how the Innovation culture trickles down to your group and team level.
Leadership: Every individual has their own way to a creative process and use different ways to come up ideas. This can be a conscious effort through brainstorming or an unconscious effort. Making sure that the leader creates a conducive environment, lends his ears and provides encouragement to the project team at every stage of the process is extremely important. Without leadership support oversight along the project lifecycle, your project is doomed to fail.
Innovation process: Whether you are engaged in the innovation project early-on during the sourcing stage where problems, ideas and technologies are still being defined or you are engaged during solution exploration stage, its extremely important that there is a well defined process for innovation initiatives. Having a well defined process and milestones will help you understand what is expected out of you at every stage. This article from HBR details this process.
Sponsorship and Alignment: This could be outside the area of your concern if you are satisfied with the above areas. If not find out at what level this innovation project is being sponsored. Is this funding because there is some money in the budget left ? or strategically sponsored at the top executive level. This will give you the level of confidence before investing your precious time and energy into the project. Finally, understand the company strategy and goals. To what level in the company your innovation project goals aligns with their strategy.
You should probably spend 3-4 weeks to understand the above aspects before accepting the Innovation role. Especially critical, if you would be in for a long haul. As they say “no pain no gain”, innovation role can set you up for long term success and I strongly believe it would be a rewarding experience.
Good luck on your Innovation journey !