Planning an Innovation Project

What strikes in your mind when you hear the word “Innovation”?

What strikes in your mind when you hear the word “Innovation”? An Apple iPhone, Google Earth, TATA Nano, Satellite phone, MIT, AT&T Bell labs, Steve Jobs, Robert Bosch, Thomas Edison…..etc. The image which comes in your mind for the word “Innovation” could be of a Product, Person, Place, Institute or anything else depending on what has touched your life or what you believe is a benchmark….something which fascinates you for its sheer newness & path breaking attempts.

Innovate or Exit, is the imperative of today’s competitive business world. The eccentric lone scientist toiling away in his lab may be the poster-child for inventors, but studies have shown that the vast majority of important innovations actually spring from collaborative, team efforts. Teams which are divided by functions but united by an objective. In today’s imperative innovation is handled in organizations by dividing it into multiple projects due to the sheer scales & volumes. Let’s get started & glance at some points which might help you in planning an innovation project.

Get the Right Diversity

The first step for a successful project is right team formation. For innovative ideas to flourish you should maintain a healthy diversity not just in terms of experience & gender but also in terms of Cognitive brain mapping. Innovation is all about novel ideas & ways. Ideas generate when people with different neural wiring rub across each other. When I say neural wiring it means people with Left or Right brain orientation. Human brain is profoundly divided, the Right-Brain (R-Brain) and the Left-Brain (L-Brain). The difference of hemisphere is not about what they do, but how they do

R-Brain makes someone broad, holistic, open and sustained view to deal a problem, whereas L-Brain preference offers analytical, focused and differentiated view to solve a problem. Thought process originates at the R-Brain by its virtue and is then validated by the L-Brain by its analytical property. Likewise, innovation and invention happens by the combination of Left and Right hemisphere’s thought processes. So it is important that your team has a very healthy combination of Left & Right brain guys.

Example : Jerry Hirschberg, president of Nissan Design International, applies the Left-Right-brain cognitive abrasion principle by hiring designers into his organization in virtual pairs. That is, when he hires a designer who glories in the freedom of pure color and rhythm, he will next hire a very rational, Bauhaus-trained designer who favors analysis and focuses on function.
Short-term Planning is the Best

Innovation projects are inherently very complex, planning by keeping the final product in mind might not help. Planning should be extremely clear with simplified goals or otherwise the team will get lost. The bigger picture has to be disseminated into smaller jigsaws. It could be as simple as keeping simple objectives per week. Trying achieving short-term goals in a regular & focused way would ultimately lead to smooth success. Targeting the bigger picture directly might lead to chaos, panic, de-motivation & frustration.

Be a Leader not a Manager

Innovation thrives under leaders & not under managers. Innovative Companies Demand Innovative Leaders. It is a leader who can inspire & motivate people. Studies show that a leader’s everyday actions are one of the most powerful signals to their team. They must lead the innovation charge by understanding how innovation works, improving their own discovery skills, and sharpening their ability to foster the innovation of others. They should not feel that their only responsibility is to “facilitate the process”. Do not just delegate innovation; keep your own hands deep in the innovation process. Remember “Innovators want to work with other innovators.”
Simplify Hierarchy

Don’t make hierarchy a barrier. A complex hierarchy would kill the zeal and motivation for innovation, making the employees feel the “glass wall” effect. Ideas flow best when there is no barrier. If you value hierarchy then the chances of good ideas getting killed are very likely. A complex hierarchy would suffocate the ideas & make their execution, even more, miserable.
Tolerance for Failure

Innovation always has a risk of failure. You should not penalize people for failures instead you should appreciate the efforts put by the team. Only by encouraging the team to take risks & fail would ultimately lead to success. Penalizing people for failures is nothing but preparing to blow the trumpet of your own defeat. Remember even most innovative companies have a LONG list of failed products developed by same people who gave them some amazing inventions.
All voices are equal

All the people in the team are equal. Innovation has very little to do with age & experience. So every idea or voice which comes out of the team needs equal attention & weight. It was the amateurs who built the ark & Professionals who built the Titanic.

Finally success of an innovation project depends on how you lead your people & not necessarily on how much you spend on them. In the words of Steve jobs, “Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”

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