What to Do When Innovation Stops...

Sometimes it can feel like innovation just stops...

I’ve seen this in both start-ups when they find product-market fit then start to scale and in corporate innovation teams when they’ve developed a successful product which is returned to the core business for a mainstream launch.

Common characteristics of this phase:

Leadership Changes – about this time the start-up founders may exit as new skills are required to scale; or in corporate teams the original leaders are often rewarded for success with promotion to leadership roles in struggling parts of the core business.

Team Growth – recruitment can be huge in this phase with new team members arriving almost daily. But interestingly, there appears to be less focus on recruiting for the right team fit. We often see a shift from recruiting generalists with the right mindset to specialists with certain skills which can lead to turf wars, for example, “But I’ve always looked after our Facebook Page.”

Less Time – in reality there isn’t less time but as we move from exploration to execution, delivery pressures can make it feel like there is less time to be creative.

Experimentation Stops – because we feel like we have less time and our processes may have become more complex we stop experimenting. Plus, as we have product-market fit we know what we are building, right ?

What Can We Do When the Innovation Stops?

Let’s start with what not to do. It’s unlikely the answer is going to be a one-day innovation workshop. I’m sure everybody would have a really great time and would learn some cool new facts. But what we’re really talking about here is creating a sustainable programme of change with innovation principles embedded, rather than something people talk about as a separate process.

Here are a couple of suggestions I’ve seen work:

Quarterly Design SprintsDesign sprints are a methodology from Google Ventures which use the theory of design thinking to solve big problems, develop solutions, build prototypes and test with real customers in just five days. A cross functional team is built by taking six people out of the business to work at pace on a real business problem. I’ve seen this work well in corporate environments as teams learn to reconnect with their customers and return to the core-business energised with new skills.

Challenge Programme – this is where the leadership team sets a business challenge and cross functional teams form to solve the problem. The challenge usually lasts eight weeks and results in a pitch battle, where teams pitch back their ideas. These teams typically spend around 20% of their time working on their ideas. I’ve shared my experiences of this ‘Innovation in a Box’ concept I developed for use with a tech company that was experiencing a period of rapid growth and wanted to reconnect with their original innovative culture. You may also like to check out ‘Kickbox’, a methodology originally developed by Adobe for testing business ideas which is open source.

Co-creation Software – For larger organisations, innovation software such as ‘Hype’ can help connect strategic goals with idea campaigns. The software helps build, track and optimise idea generation and also allows co-creation online with customers. In my experience, these platforms are good for creating engagement, raising awareness and for tracking ideas but ideas still require execution.

Sometimes it may feel like the innovation stops, but this phase is just a normal part of the business lifecycle. Fundamentally humans are curious and creative. Given clear direction, time, space and permission to fail then innovation can be reignited.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash