Overwhelmed by the push for innovation in your organization? Unimpressed with the results?

Innovation for innovation’s sake is busywork for you and everyone involved. To overcome innovation inertia, learn how innovation works and how to lead it.

You may know that innovation is needed, but lack a specific focus or understanding of the challenge space. Or, perhaps you need better or more elegant solutions to address the challenge. Maybe you have a problem of abundance, encouraging creativity but then find yourself embarrassed by the wealth of ideas people generate.

In leading innovation, much of your work will be to champion and connect across and beyond your organization in order to gain traction for a proposed solution. Sometimes, the challenge is to get an initial solution out into the world and learn how to continuously develop and refine it. Other times, the challenge is to balance rigor and creativity.

CCL’s Targeted Innovation process helps you give focus to innovation efforts and clarify your leadership role:


1. Clarify. Innovation emerges from a full understanding of the challenge. The exploration process begins by framing the challenge in a way that encourages creative problem-solving. Then the people involved gather data, including data gathered from in-depth observation of potential clients for a solution to the challenge. From this data, insights are generated through dialogue and discussion. New information and perspectives emerge, allowing for new opportunities and, typically, re-framing of the challenge. Leadership here is about developing a shared understanding of the situation and bringing together many diverse perspectives.


2. Ideate. This is the process of generating, refining and selecting ideas — how teams can do this is the focus of many innovation books, workshops and guides. Any number of tools or activities may be useful, but the leadership role for ideation is essential. Leadership for this phase is about creating a collective sense of what is possible. This includes facilitating thinking beyond obvious answers, and for everyone involved to avoid killing ideas and shutting down participation.


3. Develop. Concepts, solutions and plans need development and refining. Work through ideas by creating prototypes, experimenting and testing, and low-risk sharing. As ideas are refined, teams should also identify additional stakeholders and think through a plan to introduce the idea and gain acceptance. Leadership at this phase is about creating a well-refined concept while also planning and developing collaborative relationships, opening up a dialogue and influencing key stakeholders across organizational boundaries — all in service of turning potential solutions into reality.


4. Implement. The “doing” phase is about piloting, rolling out a solution. It’s also the learning and adapting phase. During product development or process improvement, the team should take in new information and adjust as needed. Leadership during this phase is about keeping the innovation on target and meeting the customer needs or the organizational challenge that initiated the innovation process.

As you reflect on this process, compare it with how innovation tends to happen in your organization. Also be careful not to implement the process in a rote fashion. Remain flexible with it. For example, the entry point may not be the Explore step, but the rigor of this step is required in applying all the other phases (particularly, when you are confronted with a really good idea but the “itch it needs to scratch” is not well articulated).
infographic-4-part-innovationIt’s also important to note that Targeted Innovation is not a stage-gate process, which is often used in New Product Development. Targeted Innovation may be useful in each stage of that process. But because Targeted Innovation happens at a high level (e.g. informing new product development) and also a low level (e.g. informing what to name the new product), you may find the process may intercept various phases of the stage-gate process and, indeed, after the innovation is launched.

When you understand how the innovation process works, you can see what is missing in your approach to leading innovation. Start to discern development needs for you and your team by asking these questions:

  • What part of the process comes most easily to you?
  • What needs to happen to bring others in the organization to embrace and champion the innovation?
  • Do you need new skills or tools to work though the Targeted Innovation process?
  • Does your managerial mindset need to expand or shift to effectively lead innovation?
  • In what ways does the organizational culture support your team’s innovation, and what is getting in the way?


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