The call for organisations to be innovative is becoming deafening. Everywhere a CEO looks, people are asking about the next big thing, how will they solve the problems they have, how can they make the most of the opportunities in front of them. It is hard to ignore the noise, and so one-by-one, executives are starting to accept and understand that they have to be innovative to keep their business relevant and successful.

Great start – but what’s next?

Anybody can make a decision; it’s the actions taken next that will determine success. The executive team are on-board the good ship “innovation”, and then they give the infamous rallying cry to their troops, “we need your ideas!”

Encouraging? Yes. Inspiring? Probably. Will it be successful? Unlikely.

Really? Surely, one of the key factors in having successful innovation is strong leadership support and sponsorship. This is being very clearly displayed here, but a key tenet of innovation has been missed. The target to aim at has not been called out.

bow & arrow imagesBy means of a metaphor, let me explain. Instead of ideas, think arrows. Arrows within a quiver are dormant and not useful. Good to have, but not bringing any benefit. Arrows being fired have become active, but if they don’t hit the target, again, they are not bringing value. Success is only achieved when an arrow is fired and it hits the intended target.

It is the same with ideas. If you have lots of ideas that are being discussed, but no one knows what the target is, then you are unlikely to be innovating successfully. You can be sure that there is huge amount of innovation activity, but you are relying on chance and serendipity for success. Gambling is always a bad idea, unless you own the casino.

So, back to our problem and forecast of doom. By simply asking people for ideas, without providing the targets that innovation needs to solve, you will bury yourself in many, many ideas, without being able to find the space to find and implement those that bring impact and value. You have made ideas the outcome, rather than an enabler of success.

Many people say that they are innovating, but in fact they are treating innovation and having ideas as a task; another thing to do. I went to work, I wrote an email, I had a meeting, I had an idea. Innovation just becomes another task that needs to be prioritised in a busy day. Sure, as an organisation you are getting ideas, but innovation is not a core activity and gets easily displaced by other activity.

A way to tell if innovation is an outcome is when there is more excitement in the number of ideas, than when the ideas are implemented. Ideas and innovation are an outcome. To be truly successful in innovation, innovation must become the enabler of business success. Rather than first asking for ideas, the targets to aim at must be identified.

Innovation becomes the “how” instead of the “what”.

What are the strategic imperatives where innovation is needed? Where has an objective or goal been stated, but how to achieve it is unknown. Innovation does not need to rely on serendipity; it now becomes strategic and managed.  The corporate creativity is harnessed and channelled into the areas where it is needed.

And as a result? Ideas are impactful and valuable, since they’re enabling strategic goals to be met. When you achieve this, everyone will understand his or her role in innovation and how key it is to the current and future success of the organisation. Some have the ideas, some make the ideas better and others implement them; the “corporate” innovation team is at work here.

Don’t just seek out ideas because you’re constantly being pushed to innovate. Don’t panic. Take a step back, identify where innovation is needed, map out a strategic foundation, and then demand that your people ideate with a clear target in their sights. Innovation is no longer a luxury – it’s become a necessity that you cannot afford to get wrong.

NB: This article was first published on the Mindjet Conspire website