47 million answers to successful innovation

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A recent google search on the term “How to innovate?” returned a count of 47,500,000 articles!  The top result (from a company that will remain nameless) was…

“Copy someone else’s idea: One of the top ways to innovate is to pinch an idea that works well elsewhere and apply it to your business…”  This is an interesting approach and within reason could be cited as good advice.  I’m sure some of the smartphone providers may have taken this advice when they first saw the Apple iPhone.

Another, titled “How to Innovate: 15 steps (with pictures)” promised to be an interesting read.

Now, I’ll be honest we haven’t read all 47 million results, in fact we barely skimmed over a dozen of them.  The reason being, most if not all of the top articles gave suggestions like develop a meaningful mission, question everything and care about your customers.  These were all interesting suggestions, but nowhere did I find instructions to help me understand how to innovate.

As we all know, technology today is a major source of disruption in many industries and the legal sector is not immune to this.  In the last article we discussed how increasing levels of investment in LegalTech was going to disrupt the sector in the same way that FinTech has disrupted finance.  At least we now know that the disruption is coming so we had better do something about it.  One answer is to accept the inevitable and successfully manage a declining business.  Over the last ten years we have all seen some large and once prestigious companies implode and disappear as a result of failure to change.  An alternative approach is to innovate or ideate some solutions to the challenges the sector faces.

The problem most firms face when recognising the need to change is understanding exactly what to do.  We often hear of organisations running leadership summits to thrash out some new ideas or small groups being established with responsibility for innovation across the business and in some cases, we are actually seeing new jobs roles such as Head of Innovation being created and handed sole responsibility.  However, we also continue to see a repeating pattern, namely the lack of a methodology or process to support the efforts.

Let us segue for a moment, the IT sector has for years had methodologies to help ensure that projects deliver the expected outputs.  In the 90’s we had things like Structured Systems Analysis & Design Method (SSADM) and over the years we have had things like Rapid Application Development and most recently we have embraced Agile approaches.  There is no doubt that applying a structured approach to development reduces risk of failure at a later stage and should over the lifetime of the project reduce costs.

Returning to the challenges of innovation many companies see the challenge, few have adopted a structured approach which is very surprising.  Innovation isn’t a thing we do once and forget about or something we can assign to a small group of people to own, it should be part of the culture, a consistent way of thinking all.  Actually, it is a real living, system-based thinking approach to dealing with an issue.  Let us consider for a moment one great case study.

At the end of the second world war, the global economy needed significant rebuilding.  One country that saw enormous success from adopting such a way of thinking was Japan, at one point in the ashes it grew to be the second-largest economy in the world.  A little-known American engineer William Edwards Denning can be credited for most of the success.  Denning approached the problem with a different mind-set; he taught Japanese industry about systems and quality in a way that had never been taught before the result, phenomenal transformation.  There is a great story of how customers of early Ford motor cars wanted those with the Japanese gearbox and not the American gearbox.  Both built to the same specification, but both had very different operating efficiencies.  Now, if we could apply the same kind of systems thinking to the innovation process, we will see some radical impact.

One approach born out of Denning’s teachings, strives to do three critically important but inter-related things.  Firstly, engage everyone in the company in the process.  When people are encouraged to innovate, they remain engaged, when they feel empowered to use their brains and imagination creativity starts to flow and business transformation can take effect.  One study showed that over a six-month period when engaging a wider employee pool factors such as courage, optimism and quality all improved.

Secondly, increase the speed to fail. Not every idea will succeed but following a process that allows an idea to “fail fast” by identifying the reasons why that idea should not continue, allows the best ideas to find their ways to the top of the pile.  Increased speed is important especially when considering the opportunities that digital transformation provides.  Digital tools allow you to create, validate, test and record outcomes in a fraction of the time of manual ideation processes.

Finally, have a set of steps that ensure risk is minimised.  The last thing we want is to introduce new ideas that increase risk into the business operations.  Research suggests that just 5 to 15% of innovation is successful, the odds of winning at a gaming table are higher!  So, if we believe that we need to innovate to stay in business we had better find a way of managing that risk in an appropriate way.

It is easy to increase speed by accelerating the delivery of the project without regard to risk.  Likewise, it is easy to minimise risk by slowing down all innovation. What if we could combine increased speed and reduce risk into a single approach that helped us with the innovation process?

Systems based thinking applied to the innovation process is here today, it has helped some companies increase sales by 84%, increase profits by 96% and increase employee counts by 64%.

Smartcrowds® from software company Bridgeall embodies these digital tools coupled with a proven methodology to help your business grow.  Watch out for our webinar discussing how one of our legal sector companies is innovating through these proven techniques.

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