Innovation is fundamentally about change. Because people change, the things they want and need change. To stay relevant in business, we must constantly adapt to new demands.
Irrelevancy is death. Just ask Kodak and Blockbuster, Tower Records, or Borders Books. To accomplish change—to create and cultivate innovation—within an organization takes commitment, a clear-eyed focus on our objectives, and a strategy for meeting them. In short, we need an agenda.
The Pillars of Successful Innovation
One accepted pattern behind a successful innovation agenda has emerged from numerous organizations and among leaders in the shape of four pillars: Context, Culture, Capability, and Collaboration.
The presence of these pillars has been remarkably consistent in my own leadership experiences and essential to how I guide innovative change. Indeed, at Revera, we formalized our agenda, broke it down into achievable steps and guidelines, and gave ourselves five years to accomplish our task, which we labeled “Innovations in Aging.”
It is useful to think about the idea of context in innovation through a dichotomy: the relative ease of identifying individuals who accept the need to innovate and see mechanisms specific to the organization for doing so versus the near impossibility of applying that spirit at the organizational scale.
This is largely due to the difficulty of fitting transformative ideas into incumbent standards, processes, and procedures.
When we try new things, there is a lot to learn as we go. If we are not adaptable, we will not see what is working and what is not, and we won’t see opportunity when it presents itself, so to seize advantage, we must be nimble.
From the outset, context requires that we lay the foundations of success with considerations for our organizational structure, financial structure, physical space and location, organizational identity and values, and performance targets and incentives.
Next, an organization needs to create a culture that will empower an innovation process to thrive.
We need to develop a risk-tolerant organizational culture where people know there will not be punishment for creative problem-solving that may need time to evolve. Just as we need to be nimble, we have to be courageous.
Courage starts with developing a culture that is, to use a phrase I have already applied in other blogs, insatiably curious. We need to foster an entrepreneurial spirit, one that is capable of extracting learnings from the moments when we don’t get everything right. Some get caught up in the excitement and novelty associated with innovation and end up applying measures only for the sake of innovation.
Real innovation is not about following trends or doing what seems in vogue. Most of history’s famous “innovations” are examples of applying a process or technology from one sector to a new one.
Our innovative solutions must be aligned with and focused on influencing what is central to who we are, how we operate, and what is at the core of our business model and culture, which returns us to context.
Successful innovation concentrates on the people and the needs at a business’s heart. At Revera, any change we consider must improve the lives of our residents, their families, or our team members.
Such improvement might be direct, like discovering a superior walker or introducing pathway lighting to reduce fall hazards (which, by the way, is a nice example of an existing innovation simply put to work in a new environment, for such lighting has been used on airplanes and in theaters for decades, but in a senior’s apartment, it gains new life).
It can also be indirect, like making our financial systems cloud-based to make them more efficient and easier to use.
Once the pillar of innovative culture starts to flourish, hordes of ideas will be thrown on the table. This is where we need structured methods to identify and evaluate those we want to invest in, which measures our capability.
Revera’s Innovators in Aging program sought a multi-faceted approach to problem-solving, gathering ideas from residents, their families, and team members at every level of the company. When we provide team members agency, there is no shortage of quality ideas.
We started by simply cataloging all the ideas, programs, processes, policies, and procedures employed throughout the company that might be considered innovative, identifying what we already did well before trying to find new ways to do things better.
From there, we developed a systematic approach for identifying priorities, a timeline, and a process for discussing needs best met by external parties, scouring the entrepreneur landscape for new technologies, and implementing changes we could accomplish in-house.
As I just suggested, sometimes meaningful innovation requires collaboration. The quickest way to get into trouble is to invest time and money in areas of weakness or an adjacent industry.
Often, while an idea is in its infancy, the default should be collaborating with organizations with aligned interests and a potentially better solution. This collaborative mindset for implementing an innovation can be crucial to success.
The partnerships that can emerge from such a thought process are the topic of my next blog. So, if you are seeking an innovation agenda in your organization, stay tuned.
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