The 4-Step Guide to Refining Your Innovation Process

Most companies today make innovation a priority — or at least they say they do. However, innovating is an inexact science. It’s not the same as learning how to thread a needle or take a screenshot on your Mac. So how do you know if your innovation process is working?

Loosely speaking, if your team has come up with some ideas that either make or save money — and you’ve successfully implemented them — you’re on the right track. Maybe you could have gotten from point A to point B faster, or cheaper. Take a look at our 4-step guide for refining your innovation process, and see if you might be able to implement some changes to increase efficiency.

1. Fight Inertia

Often, the hardest part of completing a task is getting started. People procrastinate; they give their attention to less-important projects. How can you get them on track?

Impose deadlines and quotas. After a brainstorming session, tell your team you want three (or another number you like better) ideas from everyone by the end of the week. It’s true; a lot of them will be bad. However, some won’t, and the bad ones can sometimes pave the way for good ones.

2. Keep up the Momentum

We’re all familiar with how plans can get bogged down in committee. Many viable ideas have died slow deaths this way. What to do?

Don’t wait until your plan is ready to reveal. It will never be completely ready. There will always be something you can do to improve it. Get it right out there and get some feedback. Don’t be afraid people will laugh and criticize an idea. They will, even if it’s the best plan anyone ever saw. It’s inevitable.

Getting your plan out quickly allows you to collect data on potentially fatal flaws or stumbling blocks. You may also get helpful suggestions. Whatever you get, you’ll get it faster than you would if you waited.

3. Narrow the Field

This is where you need to have the confidence to reject the ideas that aren’t viable and focus your time, energy, and money on the ones that have a chance.

Even if you have a lot of ideas that seem good, you have limited resources. Spreading them too thin means none of the ideas get a fair chance to succeed. It’s a gamble for sure, but you have put your focus — and your money — on the ideas with the most potential.

Sure, you can wing this type of judgment call or go with your gut, but it’s better to have a formal evaluation process. That way it’s harder to justify putting effort into ideas that seem good but would be difficult to develop fully. Some ideas are good, but they’re not viable, or they’re not viable right now.

A formal evaluation process also helps your employees understand what you want and what’s important to you. Without reasoning to back up the decisions that get made, employees may think you are rejecting their ideas cursorily or playing favorites.

4. Think

Building in time for thinking and reflection is critical to the innovation process. It might seem strange you halt the process after we rushed you through brainstorming and reveal and cycles. But that’s why we did it — to make sure you had time to reflect.

This time allows you to fix the bugs in your plan. More importantly, if this step is required, it prevents you from glossing over mistakes and rushing your idea to completion.

No one wants to work hard on a project and leave it unfinished. This fear of being robbed of the feeling of completion and accomplishment is the siren song that too often leads to rushing, errors, and ultimately, failure.

Try to avoid using the word “stop” for this period (ie. stop and reflect). Why? Because although reflecting is quiet and doesn’t require physical activity, engaging in it is not stopping. It’s continuing. It’s an important step in the process that many people skip because they have trouble seeing how it counts as moving forward.

Be an Innovation Leader

In conclusion, to develop a successful innovation process, consider building regular time into your employees’ schedules for thinking and innovating. This process doesn’t always have to be a formal gathering with a brainstorming label on it.

Also keep good records of the feedback you receive, from both your employees and those who help test your product. This kind of data is an important part of the refining process and helps prevent you from repeating steps and making some of the same mistakes over again.

The innovation process is a chain, and one weak link makes an impact. Treat each step as if it were the most important one.

This article was originally published on the IdeaScale blog here.



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