One of the major issues that I see teams falling into is deciding to initiate an “innovation” project. Being aware of the need to innovate is great. Being unaware of how to begin is an issue. Besides leading you down a tougher path, deciding to initiate an innovation project adds unnecessary stress to the situation. When a team is formed to innovate, there is this instant requirement and expectation to bring forth an extravagant idea. I’ve seen countless teams fail with this path as opposed to the path that should be taken.
The more natural approach
Innovation starts out as problem-solving. Innovation is a term associated with the solution. When you start out, you don’t have a solution. So you can’t start with that. Instead, what you have is a problem. Start with a problem. Think about the difference this makes to the team.
“You have been assigned to this team in order to innovate new solutions.”
“You have been assigned to this team in order to find problems in our department worth solving.”
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be part of the second team. It seems much more natural. I also wouldn’t feel stressed in any meetings going on as part of this project.
Let’s call these problem-driven projects Pull Type Projects. The problem pulls you towards finding a solution. Problems could be internal (workflow, process, etc.) or external (product, user experience, etc.). This is a much more natural way to start as the problem could be easily deduced from KPIs (assuming an ongoing operation) or customer shadowing (assuming an external solution).
Another starting point is a technology. A technology is any new piece of information, tangible or non-tangible. Big data is a technology. Virtual Reality (VR) is a technology. Let’s call these types of projects Push Type Projects. The new technology pushes you to find opportunities to utilize their capabilities. For example, if you’re a company that specializes in VR technology, then a natural starting point is seeing what problems you can solve with the technology you have. In this case, you have an asset, VR, and are looking for opportunities and use cases for this technology.
Next time you intend on starting a project, drop the use of innovation to characterize the initiative. Instead, Identify a problem or a technology, and organize a team around finding opportunities surrounding these push or pull type projects. Your team members will thank you for this.