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Want better innovation ideas? You need this one thing

Why do some innovation ideas fail while others succeed? What’s the secret ingredient that can make the difference between being relegated to the pile of ‘great ideas that didn’t quite make it’, or leaping onto the winner’s podium?

There are a number of different factors that prevent good innovation ideas from taking hold, including anything from insufficient resources through to a lack of commitment or implementation. But a key underlying factor can come from not having considered the purpose behind the innovation. This one thing can be the catalyst that spurs people to implementation. It’s also – sadly – a factor that few people or organisations consider.

Think about it: Once you know why you are doing something, there is greater commitment to follow through. There will be more determination to see innovation ideas through to completion, no matter what challenges pop up.

Yet few organisations spend time identifying and drawing on the purpose behind their push for innovation.

Employees want more

A recent Deloitte survey of millennials found that the most motivating factor in their work is not money: It’s whether they can identify a sense of purpose in what they do. In fact, 88 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds ranked ‘purpose’ as the number one motivating factor behind their work.

This is true in most areas of work, but it’s particularly true for innovation. Coming up with and introducing something new takes a lot of motivation and energy, but people who strongly believe in something will go the extra mile to make sure it gets done.

As Mark Bresnahan, a young product manager at design and manufacturing firm Fourstar Connections, has said, My generation feels a responsibility to create an environment where people and businesses are a force for positive change.”

And this does not just apply to millennials; this commitment can be found at all levels of an organisation. The CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, has made a commitment to purpose. “Businesses are the greatest platforms for change,” he says, “and they can have an enormous impact on improving the state of the world.” With that attitude, it’s no surprise that Salesforce comes second in Forbes‘ ‘World’s Most Innovative Companies’ list.

Purpose-driven innovation

We have had the privilege of working with a number of companies that work hard to bring this sense of purpose back into their innovation ideas. On the other hand, we have also been perplexed by our encounters with organisations that clearly fail to link the initiative back to any central purpose. This difference can impact employee morale and commitment to the project, and ultimately impacts the success of the innovation initiative.

So how do you start to build a culture for purpose-driven and sustainable innovation?

  1. Clarify the organisation’s vision, mission and values (VMV) – and check that there is buy-in.
  2. Identify how new innovation ideas fit in with the VMV, and set clear innovation goals.
  3. Share the purpose behind the innovation and make sure everyone understands its connection with the organisation’s VMV.
  4. Gauge employee and stakeholder commitment to the VMV and to the specific innovation initiative, and discuss any concerns about commitment.
  5. Assist employees with using the VMV to guide them in the innovation implementation.
  6. Support employees through the potential challenges along the way.

By starting with purpose as a foundation for innovation ideas, you’re bound to get much more engagement and commitment from your team, which means innovation success might just be that little bit more achievable.

Gaia Grant and Andrew Grant are the authors of The Innovation Race: How to change a culture to change the game (Wiley August 2016) along with a number of other international bestselling books and resources.

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Max Underhill
Max Underhill

We agree with the purpose driven innovation but we find organisations dive into the Vision/Mission/values without firstly understanding what the core business is and secondly is the innovation contributing to the core business. We worked with a company that researched and developed a product for close to 10 years and suddenly realised they could not manufacture it – it was eventually sold off to a competitor (option was to discard all the hard work). The other missing element is the performance framework – how do we (and employees) know that the core business is being delivered appropriately. With this performance… Read more »

The innovation vision: Why so many innovation initiatives fail and how to do it better « T-Thoughts Team Building & Leadership Development Articles

[…] Adapted excerpt from The Innovation Race book, originally published in a similar format as an article online by Human Resources Media […]

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