How to Drive Innovation In 2020

A top priority for many CEOs in this new decade is innovation -- innovation of not just products and services, but of business models, new market opportunities and internal cultures. Innovating with products is certainly the way to new markets, and it can also be the foundation for inventing new business models, cementing sustainable growth and keeping competition at bay.

For more than 10 years, our company has worked with growing and global companies building new product strategies. In our work, we design and build new product ideas and take them to market. We may start with an idea or with research, but as we get started, ideas move through a set of fairly consistent stages, regardless of our client's industry.

We hear nearly the same concerns and questions in every case. People often voice the following: "I just don't know what is taking so long!" "Where is the justification for this idea?" "Who is the market?" "How do we know this will work?" "What is a bot?" "Do we have the right talent in place to be successful?" "We do not have enough development resources that are knowledgeable with AI; how are we going to get these products developed?"

There are always more questions than there are answers at any given moment in the process. So how can you best tackle your desire to develop a culture of innovation? Here are four strategies that may help:

1. Take Inventory

To do this, start by generating the biggest questions that need to be answered. For example, three of our largest innovation consulting engagements started with two big questions: How do we leverage all of our data, and what is the possibility of monetizing our data?

After finding those questions, you can then start to inventory your data, but not without answering additional questions:

  • What is your current culture around data?
  • Who are your creative thinkers in the organization?
  • Where are the data experts in the company, and what core competencies do they have?

In other words, in order to answer those first two questions, you have to generate and investigate answers to nearly 100 other questions, if not more. Gaining the answers to all of these questions will allow you to build a landscape for possible ideas -- on a scale of minimal risk to disruptive, high-risk ideas. You will also be able to outline the success criteria for each idea.

2. Collaborate to Innovate

At the center of innovation is collaboration. Innovation should not be done in isolation. First, assign someone in the organization to form external collaboration partnerships with key customers, consultancies, development firms and experts in areas where strength is needed. Next, assign someone the role of your internal culture transformation leader. This person is your integrator. They should be building teams around ideas, building centers of competencies inside the company and beginning the process of integration for all new ideas that emerge -- so everyone is up to speed as knows their role.

3. Assign an Innovation Lead

Identify one or more people in each department to be a departmental innovation lead. You may have an innovation team that resides outside all other departments assigned already. This has been the typical way to start innovation efforts without disrupting the priorities of others. You may also already have concept room days, pitch days and incubator efforts, but to move quickly and let no new ideas pass by, it's important to assign that innovation lead in each department. The benefits will be huge! The departmental innovation lead should be kept informed of new ideas forming across the organization. They should also report new ideas from their department to the innovation team at large.

4. Bank Your Ideas

Build your innovation idea bank, and rate each idea based on factors you determine are important to the company. You may not have this level of metric currently in place, so I encourage you to come up with metrics for rating all ideas. Ideas are your assets, and they shouldn't be wasted.

With these tips, you should be well on your way toward a culture of innovation. But the push doesn't stop there. Be sure to continuously check in on these changes as your innovation teams start to make headway -- to make sure your progress is consistent.