You may notice a theme in our conversations and posts here—that true innovation is difficult, rife with risks, and susceptible to failure (which may actually be a good thing).
Yet things aren’t cranking like you thought they’d be.
- Ideas are coming in
- You’re objectively prioritizing them
- The team is building lightweight concepts
- Hypotheses are being validated
But there is nowhere for your plane to land and things seem to sputter here (or maybe even earlier). If you haven’t yet, you may need to map your company’s innovation ecosystem.
Ideas need time and room to breathe; to grow and achieve their potential, they need to be accepted and implemented. This means working in concert with the rest of the organization at critical moments.
Mapping your ecosystem is mostly taking into account all the pockets of innovation activity and subculture that probably already exist and using a sponsored program to harness the energy and act as a catalyst. In Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma, he identifies that the processes and structure of an organization are often responsible for limiting innovation. New ideas that do not fit how value is typically generated and captured do not have a place, not because they aren’t good but because that’s what good management does—it creates efficiency.
“Because an organization’s structure and how its groups work together may have been established to facilitate the design of its dominant product, the direction of causality may ultimately reverse itself: The organization’s structure and the way its groups learn to work together can then affect the way it can and cannot design new products.” - Clayton M. Christensen
By taking the time to understand how an idea can work through your organization, you can strengthen a few of your 5Ps for innovation programs (namely, Process and People) and make your program more sustainable through known integration points.
Other benefits for your program will be discovered as well:
You will create shorter innovation feedback loops. If you’re running innovation, you already know the importance of talking to users whether they are internal colleagues, paying customers, or consumers of a competing product/service. Knowing your ecosystem can shorten the time to hear from all three. These interactions help to:
- Increase confidence in the overall process/discipline of your innovation program
- Mature ideas faster (and cast aside those with limited value/upside)
Improve intake. Your innovation process is probably very similar to other organizations in that at a high level, the activities are mostly the same. It is the ingredients, goals, and outcomes that make each unique. Knowing your ecosystem puts you in a better position to find opportunities and problems, and consequently to identify the best place for ideas and concepts to graduate.
You’ll find your champions. We all know them, those folks who can’t get enough of a new idea. The ones down to take a risk. These innovation champions are in every company and they can help you move ideas along, generate buy-in, and unlock special attributes that could include additional talent, budget, perspective, customers, and more.
Uncover Innovation Antibodies You’ll identify innovation antibodies; these are the people, processes, and programs that have a tendency to stifle innovation and ideas. It’s not because they are wrong, but more likely because they’re good managers. Knowing who they are and what motivates them can help you in your pitches for disruptive ideas.
Mapping your ecosystem is easier than you think. In fact, you probably already know some of the usual suspects of innovation in your organization—or those who tried to push an idea ahead only to be shut down. Start talking to them. It will give you practice for when you interview users! They may know others, as well, and your interactions will have a compounding effect.
You can pull these interviews together, map common problems, and identify integration points throughout the organization that leverage your ecosystem most effectively. In doing so, you’ll shorten the time that ideas spend in your innovation lab and dramatically increase each one’s chance of success.