(originally posted on blogs.sap.com)
If you work in the IT industry, you stumble upon the term innovation A LOT. Everyone wants to be innovative, innovations disrupt markets, innovative companies change our world, innovation is the key lalala…
But like some other hype buzzwords, this term is used so often that it doesn’t always seem to be clear what it means. Still, everyone seems to agree that innovation is an important aspect to be successful in today’s business world.
That’s why I’d like to collect some thoughts about what is Innovation and – you know that’s currently my area of interest – how can we create an innovation culture in companies / organisations / teams?
An attempt to define innovation
“Innovation is pain”
Ok, that’s not really a definition. This quote wants to adress the level of change that needs to happen for a true innovation to arise. Innovation wants to develop a creative solution, create something that didn’t exist before. The only way to get there is to challenge the status quo. If you don’t see the need for improvements or unsolved problems, why create something new?
Some alternatives I found online:
- “The definition of innovation can be defined as a process that involves multiple activities to uncover new ways to do things.” (toolshero.com)
- “The process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.” (businessdictionary.com)
- And of course, good-old Wikipedia: “Innovation in its modern meaning is “a new idea, creative thoughts, new imaginations in form of device or method”. Innovation is often also viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs.” (wikipedia.org)
Working for THE business software company ( yes, I’m branded! 🙂 ), Innovation appears to me in several forms:
- Innovation that software vendors do while developing new software / skills or even in re-organising the company ( take the “Customer First” organisation for example).
- Innovation that happens together with our customers. Sometimes called “Co-Innovation”, has the opportunity to combine the creative energy of both our customers and SAP experts to create something wonderful, yet maybe individually influenced by that company.
- Innovation that happens on customer side.
In this text, I’d like to focus on the 3rd area as it is the closest to my area of work. With my colleagues, I currently help companies to roll out a new technology platform across their organisation. As the the tool we are responsible for is not a standard solution but a toolbox of development tools that allows you to create new and innovative things, good ideas / use-cases are crucial to have a successful journey.
But how to find innovative improvements and scenarios that are relevant enough to be implemented?
Establish a Culture of Innovation inside your organisation
On the one hand, software vendors are creating and collecting use-cases, trying to use the expertise and our creative minds to create solutions for problems. But as stated out above, that’s mainly aspect 1 and 2 of the listed innovation options.
Although I think most software vendors have pretty creative heads in their staff, they won’t be able to come up with the best ideas for ALL problems in EVERY business out there. We can give a pushing kick-start, but to solve the most individual needs, the customers’ organisations need to come up with clever ideas on their own.
On the joined journey with our customers, we need to make sure to turn them into Innovation Champions, so they can identify opportunities for improvement in their own org.
To help our customers bring their best ideas to live, we are gathering methods to create an innovation culture. I’d like to highlight some aspects here. It’s neither sorted nor complete, just a collection of characteristics that seem to be relevant for an innovative culture.
What makes a culture innovative?
If you’d like to add something or have some experiences you could share, feel free to post a comment below 🙂
- Collaboration is key for innovation. Create a collaboration culture in your team, your people should be happy and motivated to work together and CREATE. Read my previous blog about collaboration culture
- Ask more questions! To challenge the status quo, you have to understand it first. So be interested, open-minded and e.g. talk to your colleagues from other teams, what are they currently working on?
- Empower your team. If your employees / team mates don’t feel safe or powerful enough to take own decisions or initiate new projects themselves because they have to ask their managers for every single step they take, they are more likely to keep their heads under the radar instead of investing a lot of energy to initiate innovation communities.
- Foster network organisations instead of hierarchies. If your team doesn’t feel empowered to work with colleagues outside their team, how should a cross-organisational process innovation be created?
- Broaden your horizon! Sometimes, meet people that have different opinions than you. Go to Meetups to meet peers outside your organisation. From time to time, go to an event that is OUTSIDE your comfort zone. If you work, live and think in your own bubble all the time, it’s hard to get inspired and create “out of the box solutions”. Maybe join a WOL (Working Out Loud) circle?
Also Lou Gerstner, ex-CEO of IBM considered a company’s culture as kind of important:
“I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game–it is the game.”
I am more than interested to see if someone of you has some experiences that she/he wants to add! Leave a comment below 🙂
Some sources I read in order to prepare for this article: