Everything that a company focuses on must have a purpose, and innovation initiatives are no different — they have to drive value or they’re nothing but pleasant distractions. And these days, most pleasant distractions are very hard for organisations to justify and support. If it’s dismissed as a “nice-to-have” rather than a necessity, crowdsourcing innovation will always be an uphill battle, and one that never delivers on its promises.
Assumption Kills Innovation
The most successful businesses are those that have made innovation a ”must-have” activity, and that answer a fundamental question: What outcomes must we have?
In innovation management programs, this is not an easy question to answer. It’s a mix of facts, guesses, and hopes. When we work with our clients, we ask them to describe what success looks like so we can effectively measure results. But a lot of the time, it’s difficult to pin down exact targets — after all, what if we miss them? — so goals are often framed merely as aspirations, without specific, hardline outcomes.
Still, answering this question enables you to determine what the “end point” of a specific innovation challenge is. Is the end when we have had lots of ideas submitted, when we have vetted the ideas, or when we’ve eventually implemented them? Is it only when the implemented ideas have proven viable, or we can show how engaging the program is? Is it all of these things?
If you don’t cover this at the start, it usually comes up and hits you ’round the back of the head when you were least expecting it — before you know it, you’ve invested a lot of time, effort, and budget into something with no way to show why you bothered. Crossing your fingers that outcomes will be positive is not an effective way to leverage innovation or the expertise of your crowd.
The lesson? You know what they say about assuming — it’s a big killer of all things innovative!
The Crowd’s Journey
Establishing metrics against which you can measure success will help you achieve some very important needs for your innovation program to work.
Firstly, it aligns everyone involved on the outcomes that are desired before any activity starts, enabling participants to discuss and work through areas where they disagree on target goals. These discussions are far more painful and difficult to resolve once things have gotten going.
Secondly, it helps you to identify what actions need to be achieved in order to hit the mark, both before and during a challenge period. Progress can be measured and appropriate action taken where needed.
Finally, it aligns your crowd. They understand what is necessary because you can tell them exactly what is required. When you’re able to clearly communicate desired outcomes and how they will affect the business or other stakeholders, the process becomes transparent and open. Although some in the crowd may not like the decisions, they will at least understand why they have been made.
Innovation is a journey of learning and discovery, and there are always surprises. However, if you begin with the end in mind it will help you to stay the course — and keep others along with you.
NB: This article was first published on Spigit.com blog (28 September 2015).