Culture of

Since 2006, I have been engaged in several client initiatives which had an objective of fostering a culture of innovation. These organizations operate in varied sectors – from apparel design to aircraft design, e.g. education, energy, healthcare, IT, ITES, telecom etc. Many are for-profit while some are not-for-profit entities. As a project, it typically means helping the organization go to the next level of innovation maturity. The initiative is led by a CXO and run by an innovation council, and I join as a member of the team for a duration ranging from a few months to a few years. I participate in both the design and execution of the interventions.

While client perspectives vary, let me give my view of what innovation maturity means and an idea of what different levels of maturity may look like.

I find it helpful to understand innovation maturity through two dimensions: creative confidence and incubation effectiveness. The creative confidence indicates the confidence of an individual to assess the environment and frame a challenge, create solutions and selectively prototype some of them, socialize the challenge & the solutions and try to get a sponsor and eventually participate in its implementation. Incubation effectiveness indicates the quality of decision making in identifying promising ideas, allocating resources behind some of them, reviewing the progress and selectively scaling the ones which show the most promise. Here is how a 2x2 with these two dimensions looks like.

Based on the two dimensions, we have created a 5 level innovation maturity chart. Here is how it looks like.  

Going from one level to the next typically takes one or more years. Majority of the innovation programs struggle around level-3. This is where I presented 4 reasons why innovation programs in India flounder.

There are three interventions which I consider fundamental in this journey and help customers in designing and executing them:

1.      Challenge campaign: Here we identify a challenge critical to the business and throw it open to employees, perhaps a limited group, inviting ideas. Then we select a few promising ideas and take them through the prototyping stage and depending upon the feedback build business case to be presented to a team of sponsors-reviewers. Finally, we take at least one or two ideas for final implementation. This campaign can be launched within a 5-member team and it can be launched for a 1000 member organization. Here is a checklist I find useful in planning a campaign.

2.      Innovation dashboard: I am a big fan of simple dashboards. Similar to a weighing scale, a simple dashboard can help in giving feedback quickly on where we stand and may generate useful gossip. Imagine one manager asking another one on the coffee table, “Hey, what’s the idea per person per year in your group?” or “How many prototypes did your team build last month?” Dashboards send a strong message to everyone that we are serious about innovation and ready to look at its progress in a transparent manner.

3.      Bright spots: Every time we execute a challenge campaign, questions like these come up. Why only so many people participated? Why didn’t we have more prototypes? etc. These are the questions that probe the problem areas. They are important and yet they overshadow their cousin questions on the brighter side. Why did so many people participate? How come we got so many prototypes? Is there something we did well that we can do more and scale these things further? This approach is called “Following bright spots” and I have found it very helpful throughout the innovation journey.

To look at various other interventions that I use, please refer to the following presentation:

Additional references: