The term innovation is so often misunderstood and misused especially at the corporate level. So too is the perception of who innovates. I have said it before and will probably say it a million times more, contrary to popular belief, innovation is not about one person who is struck with a eureka moment and has a fully formed idea that changes the world.
by Jason Delorie (Innovation Specialist at ENL Group)
No, unlike the narrative we are sold of a one-man innovation army like the late Steve Jobs, actual innovation never happens in a vacuum. It is the collaborative effort of a team that works together drawing on each member’s individual perspectives to solve a problem. You need everyone to innovate, not just the Steve Jobs of the world. I argue that this very diversity of perspectives and experiences is what makes innovation valuable.
Changing this mindset and empowering employees to have the “permission” to innovate is one of the greatest challenges modern corporate enterprises face when trying to become the next Google or Apple. More and more organisations understand that we need to be more innovative. But what does that really mean? Some companies throw the term around like empty calories. Saying the words but not backing them up with actions, insisting that “we are innovative, look we have a Chief Innovation Officer”.
No, that just will not cut it. Innovation needs to be part of the DNA of a company to have a real and meaningful impact. Its value cannot be quantified by one person or one department; it needs to be in the hearts and minds of everyone. It needs to be an integral part of the culture in order to have a real impact.
Yes, this is easier said than done. So how does one go about ingraining innovation into a corporate culture, and unless you are a newly formed company, you will also have to contend with the set culture already present, whether good or bad.
Luckily, my personal view, passion, enthusiasm and understanding of innovation are shared with the leaders of ENL, who not only talk the talk but back it up with actions. This is what led to the launch of ENL’s first group-wide innovation challenge late last year, “INNOV8”.
The challenge was designed to ingrain innovation in our culture and create an enabling environment to empower our employees to continuously improve and challenge the status quo; after all, they are the people who know their job best, and therefore know how best to improve it. This is known in the industry as “Incremental innovation”. We also wanted to provide a structure and path to implementation for any innovative idea with potential to disrupt, “disruptive innovation”. This structure is so often overlooked with the belief that innovation is like creativity and art, there is no method to the madness. This could not be further from the truth; any investigation into the world’s leading innovative companies will show you the frameworks and structures in place to enable innovation.
It’s been several months since our closing ceremony and we have had the time to reflect and analyse if the challenge met its objectives. I am happy to say that not only did we meet our objectives but far exceeded them. With the energy and involvement of employees growing exponentially, we now have over 500 improvement opportunities submitted from all levels of the organisation. I was also truly blown away, humbled and honoured at the participants’ engagement, growth, and quality of deliverables. They truly embodied the innovation mindset, collaborating with different team members from all companies and levels and were able to produce business cases that directly addressed the problem statements formulated, and they all have great potential. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, with most of the projects being supported by the relevant CEOs and on the path to implementation. Not only that, but the participants have embodied the intended culture and are spreading the mindset throughout the group, earning them the title of “innovation champions”.
On a personal level, this experience has been one of the proudest moments in my career, not only leading the team that designed, created, and implemented the challenge but seeing the lasting effect that it has had on the participants and the group.
I am truly honoured to have been part of unlocking this dormant innovation potential and can’t wait to see what they will achieve. Thank you to all the participants.
But the work is not over; it has only just begun. The innovation challenge was our first step and I look forward to continuing this journey to become the innovation leader on the Island.