Here in the Accenture Innovation Programme, we hear the same kinds of statements all the time from our clients:
“I have lots of ideas but I don’t know what to do with them!”
“I have plenty of prototypes but they never go anywhere!”
“I have a great idea but I don’t know how to bring it to life!”
“I have a problem and I think there is a digital solution, I just need to find it.”
“I think I have the answer but how do I know for sure before I invest?”
“How do I measure the value of innovation?”
“How do I decide which of my ideas to invest in?”
They are not alone, so I’d like to share my Golden Rules of Corporate Innovation. These are the lessons learned during my time guiding Accenture on this same journey, and through understanding how our clients can apply these same learnings to their own organisations. These are the keys that I believe can unlock the sparks in even the slowest moving organisations.
Innovation has to come from the top. C-Level sponsorship is critical. Without it, you won’t achieve anything.
Be clear on what you want to achieve. What are your objectives? Plenty of companies have an innovation lab just because they think they should, or run innovation challenges without any clear route for the ideas to progress. Your overall objectives need to drive the decision-making about investments, methodologies and partnerships. You may want to drive cultural change, or bring new product and service lines to market. You may want to increase your workforce engagement or increase customer engagement. You may want to fight back at industry disruption from start-ups. All these are good reasons, and certainly not exclusive. But do understand which should be driving your decisions.
Avoid “Not Invented Here” syndrome. As well as end-users, work out early on who ALL the key stakeholders are and get them involved from the start. It’s no good presenting solutions back to the business that solve problems they don’t believe they have. Or creating something that users don’t want and don’t need. Make your stakeholders part of the process and they will already be a willing participant. It’s human nature for people to like something if they think it was their idea!
Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration! Don’t operate in isolation. The problem with innovation labs is that they often become either “the cool, mysterious place” or “the slightly scary, geeky place” where only the coolest, cleverest cats on the block go. It needs to be welcoming, inviting and open to all. Asking the same people, the same questions will get you the same answer (most likely the wrong one!). Create a team of people who can think differently and understand the whole eco-system. Change the team as you go to make sure it is custom fit to solve that particular problem; a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always work. Putting more parts of the eco-system into the process can be really powerful and validates propositions early on.
It’s all about the culture (and that’s a whole topic on its own!). Openness and freedom are words that spring to mind, though there are many more.
Be problem-focussed. Technology only gets you part of the way—it needs a clear problem to solve, and a business case for why we should bother to solve it at all, let alone at this point in time (and timing counts for a lot). Insight is key—and not just through desktop research. Get out there and really understand the problem you want to solve, then the more fit-for-purpose your solution will be.
Work out early on what “value” means for you. This is much easier if you already have clear objectives, but each new concept you develop needs a hypothesis and a plan for how you would test it. It’s not always about creating the shiniest demo, but working out how you can most efficiently prove the value before investing and scaling it, through experimentation and iteration.
Think about how you will incentivise people to join in. Even with great C-level support and a lot of enthusiasm across the business, innovation pretty much always comes second to everyone’s day jobs.The ”day job” is what they’re being paid to do, and are probably being measured on, for pay rises and career progression. Innovation needs to become part of that day job, something they are incentivised to do to fuel that enthusiasm. This is true particularly of middle management—once you have the C-Suite and the millennials on board, that middle layer can be tougher nut to crack! Find your supporters and help them to have a voice.
At the end of day, Innovation is a very woolly word, a term that is overused and often not well understood. It is part art, part science, part luck and part genius … but there is definitely method to the madness!