Innovation: Beyond the Buzz Word

Innovation is one of those words I often hear bandied about by companies eager to stay ahead of the curve. But, as with many buzz words, few organizations have truly embraced the concept. The rest have good intentions but a fuzzy view of where to start.

As with most initiatives that affect an organization as a whole, incorporating innovation into the company culture must begin at the top with senior management. Innovation, especially, is a goal that must be accepted across silos and job functions. Key stakeholders must buy in to the paradigm shift within their organizations, or innovation initiatives will flounder when they reach the weak link in the chain.

Forbes' contributing editor John Kotter recently offered up "6 Tips for Building Innovation into your Corporate DNA," and I felt they were worth sharing with Retail Leader's audience as well.

Kotter's first piece of advice is for organizations to understand that for a culture of innovation to work, team members must feel that their new ideas are welcome and that they are free to express them. Next, he reminds us that innovation is a team effort. This is where collaboration and establishing cross-functional teams with the appropriate stakeholders are critical. Everyone involved should feel they have an interest in the outcome, and that they can influence that outcome.

Kotter reminds us fear of failure is the enemy of innovation. Don't censor yourself or hold back until your idea is polished and perfect. Get out and test, revise, then test again until it's clear you're on the right track. Otherwise, ideas die before they see the light of day. Learn from your mistakes, Kotter advises. Apply forward what you've learned from your missteps.

Top-Down Effort

I mentioned early on that implementing innovation strategy within your organization must be a top-down effort. Kotter agrees, advising that the innovation process must be understood and accepted at every level. That task falls to senior management to not only lead by example, but to ensure that each stakeholder involved understands the opportunity and knows the path.

Last, Kotter tells readers to resist the urge to fit the innovation process into the constraints of traditional project management. Budgets and timelines have their place, but during the ideation stage, they are best left out of the discussion.

Fostering innovation begins with an open environment in which blue-sky thinking is encouraged. Often organizations fall into the thinking that creating an innovative culture equals walls made from white boards and rooms full of beanbag chairs. These are but artificial attempts to leverage what likely already exists within your organization: smart people with good ideas.

Fostering innovation begins with an open environment in which blue-sky thinking is encouraged.

– Jennifer Acevedo,

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