Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Innovators, innovation teams and the innovation process 5 – building the innovative organization

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on May 29, 2013

This is my fifth installment in a series on innovators and the process of innovation (see HR and Personnel, postings 154-157 for Parts 1-4.)

So far in this series I have been discussing innovation and innovators, and some of the best practices issues that go into openly cultivating the innovative potential and no matter where it arises in the organization: from a recognized inventor or innovator, or from a standard-task performing employee who has a great idea. I have been focusing in this, up to here on managers and the innovative team members who report to them, and turn now to consider the organization as a whole for that.

I am going to begin this discussion with a case study example, and then generalize from that to discuss the best practices issues of developing your business to support innovation, and in ways that make the most sense for your business model and your organization.

Google as a business, was formed on a foundation of innovation and the development of the new and disruptively so.
• A big part of their business model and their operational practice have developed as an ongoing response to this, as an organized recognition of the fact that their continued strength depends on their employees’ continued creative innovation, and on capturing that source of value and no matter where it arises within the organization.
• All of the ongoing tasks and priorities that go into maintaining Google’s current here-and-now have to be addressed so their employees have to meet all of the basic goals and priorities requirements and according to an effective and productive schedule. But to simplify this part of their overall system, employees are also allocated some 10% of their paid, standard work time to pursue their own projects, and either individually or in self-organizing teams.
• Projects that yield products or services or upgrades to current offerings, that are found to pass preliminary in-house testing hurdles are then beta test offered to members of the outside public for further testing and if these products work out there they can go on to become mainstream Google offerings.
• Many of Google’s most popular and profitable innovations have in fact arisen and been developed into inclusion in their main product lines in this way.

I offer this brief outline of an innovation-supportive approach and process as one possible way to make the organization more effectively creative and innovative. The goal for a posting like this, is however, to consider this type of process in general and how to develop it for your organization so as to make it work there.

So now set aside Google and companies that might compete with it, and consider a highly regulated industry such as banking, or the Financial department of most any business where standardized bookkeeping and other specific externally defined standards and approaches have to be adhered to (see generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Outside regulatory and other controls can very explicitly force compliance to one set standard, process, methodology or approach – limiting room for creative variation or change, and certainly for disruptively new innovation.

• But even there, if the requirement is, for example, that validated and accuracy checked data of specific types be accumulated in specific ways and to specific standards and that it be used to fill out and submit certain types of forms, an innovative way to accurately assemble and check that raw data from satellite offices, for example, might still offer real value and even competitive advantage and be fully in legal compliance.
• So even in a heavily regulated industry or area of business operations, there can still be room for real innovation and for the development of new sources of competitive advantage.
• You do, however, need to know precisely where in your system you can flexibly innovate and where you have to simply adhere to precise established guidelines and processes.

If Google offers all of its employees that 10% work time flexibility to pursue innovative possibilities, your business might do best dividing this up differently, with this primarily offered to employees working in select lines of your table of organization. But even there, the most potentially valuable insight might come from an unexpected direction, and for truly disruptive, blue ocean opportunity it often does. So flexibility and willingness and ability to listen and to follow up on the unexpected and from unexpected sources are always going to be essential.

Now consider the case of serial innovators. Let’s say as a point of argument that you do offer that 10% time allocation for pursuing innovative projects. Should you have capacity and opportunity built into your business systems to specifically support successful innovators who have already developed great projects, or who are working on a project of great particular promise and potential? Should you have a system in place that would allow a ramping up of time-off from routine and day-to-day work to pursue an innovative project in development, with a matching process for bringing schedules back to the norm if and when that makes sense too?

• My goal here is not to provide some one size fits all approach to making a business more innovatively effective, but rather to provoke thought as to the potential and value of developing approaches to this, that would work for the specific business and business context.

I am going to continue this in my next series installment with a discussion of applied and blue-sky innovation and their development in an organization. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at HR and Personnel and also at Business Strategy and Operations and at its continuation page: Business Strategy and Operations – 2.

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