Innovation is the currency of business and you are only as good as your next great idea. As Tom Peters used to say, the shiny new product you take from the store today is obsolete by the time you get it home and switched on businesses have numerous generations of successors in the pipeline behind everything they have on a store shelf.

Over the years I had the opportunity to help a few companies organise their innovation process. Not as many as I would have liked because I still find it hard to get businesses to take innovation as seriously as they should, but where there’s a development process the results have always made it worthwhile. Last week I saw a short piece on LinkedIn from Marla Gottschalk in which she asks “Where did all those great ideas go?“, which is a reminder that coming up with ideas is actually the easy part.

Wherever you work you’ll recognise that implementation represents the biggest challenge to innovation and that’s all the more reason to have a process in place. Those I have created have followed a similar path. The seed of the idea comes from the brand model – another reason why I make my my Brand Discovery programme the first initiative in any business development strategy. The great ideas that drive and save businesses can come from anywhere in your organisation, but that’s not going to happen if employees don’t understand and buy into your brand promise. I once based a very successful business unit for a company on an idea put to me by one of their junior secretaries.

What could be a lengthy list of suggestions needs to be whittled down by eliminating those that fail to measure up at various stages in the process. You can define the stages as you like, but generally they will start with the outline of the idea. Each stage must have a set of criteria that the idea has to measure up to and those that don’t are ditched. I like to involve the originator throughout the process, helping them to manage the project if they are comfortable with that, rather than taking the idea from them and handing it entirely over to managers or specialists. I’ve had shop-floor workers presenting their ideas to senior managers at various stages in the process. An approach like this will not only assure you of a steady stream of ideas for products and improvements, but, as long as there is a remuneration scale associated with each stage, it will massively enhance employee morale and buy-in, which will strengthen your brand and make your business more efficient.

Phil Darby
April 1, 2014

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