Based in Chicago, Omerisms is a blog by Omer Abdullah. His posts explore Ideas, perspectives and points of view across business, sales, marketing, life and (sometimes) football (the real kind).

Ground Rules For Innovation

I was listening to a podcast the other day in which the main subject of the show - a storied entrepreneur - made a very interesting comment.

If you have to create an “innovation center”,  then you’ve already failed.

It’s a provocative point of view, especially if you work for a big corporation, where such centers are more common. And I suppose that was his intent.

But it got me thinking about the whole idea of institutionalizing innovation - can you institutionalize it? If so, how is it done? How do you foster innovation? How do you ensure it is continuous?

Innovation, by definition, is the creation of something new, or the evolution of something that already exists, so as to incorporate newer ideas and abilities. The underlying tone is one of change, breaking barriers, usurping the status quo. As such, I cannot imagine that it makes sense to have a rigid set of rules to embed innovation within a company.

But, I have to think there are some broader ground rules or considerations  that underlie its successful practice. So I’ve come up with a few that make sense to me. I’ve tried to be practical in my suggestions and hopefully these make sense to you. (That said, if you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your feedback as well as any other ideas you may have.)

So here are my thoughts:

If you have to put a strict process for driving innovation, you’ve already failed. It seems to me that the freedom to creatively meander in the pursuit of innovation is essential. Innovation isn’t always/necessarily a sequential, milestone driven activity. It’s dirty, gritty, ambiguous, circuitous.

If you limit innovation to a small group of people in your organization, you’ve already failed. Innovation is everyone’s responsibility, across all aspects of the business. Innovation is not the domain of a select few.

To extend this further, appointing an Innovation Czar defeats the purpose. Much like dotted line relationships, they bank on the goodwill of individuals, which isn’t always forthcoming given the natural political affiliations in any company. At best, it’s a short term change catalyst to shake the company out of a rut. No one person can or should own innovation.

Innovation isn’t a periodic requirement. It’s constant, ongoing. Innovation is essential when you’re in trouble and as essential when you’re in the full flow of success. It’s an offense that delivers the best defense. Innovation isn’t an end state, it’s a continuous state of being.

Innovation requires - rewards - breaking things. In other words, Innovation should make us uncomfortable. It should fuel debate and conversation. It should cause unease amongst the complacent. But it should also result in questions from your top performers as well.

Innovation should, by definition, disrupt the status quo. If the results of innovation feel anything like business as usual, start again. Messaging should change. Sales folks should need new scripts.

For innovation to flourish, you have to have clarity of vision. You have to be clear as to what your mission is. Who you’re serving and why. This is a prerequisite.

So that’s what’s on my list (at least at the moment). What’s on yours?

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