How to facilitate innovation?
In the previous articles we were talking about innovation and have concluded that it could be stimulated, or managed. We also talked about definition of innovation. Now when we aware of what is innovation, how are we going to make it happen, or how would you go about your own organization to stimulate and develop innovation processes? How would you became innovation facilitator?
Communicating with people
First, we need to see how do you get to new ideas? The answer is ‘people’. Yes, it all comes down to common people bringing in fresh, new ideas. Every organization has some capacity to innovate. Most often it is just a potential, since not all of the new ideas ever come out in the open. The essence of innovation management is to uncover this hidden potential of every organization, good, profitable ideas. The problem is how do you find out which people in your organization have this latent potential of new ideas, and what are these ideas, let alone if they are profitable or not. That’s where methodology comes in.
You can just talk with people in your organization and try to fish out good ideas. It may be a good beginning, but you will agree it is not the best way of doing it. Than, innovation management wouldn’t be called management, but innovation chatting. What you need is more systematic approach to your investigation and research, you need the proven communication methodology. What you need is to find the means to communicate with many people at ones. The answer is to make a list of questions, better yet, make a form and let them fill it out. This is called a questionnaire. Whatever methodology you decide to use, its main communication tool is the questionnaire.
You may ask why do we talk about something as simple as the list of questions. Usually you find them in popular magazines where after answering the long list of questions you would find out if you are predisposed to gaining weight, or how well you communicate, and so on. Have you asked yourself why do you get attracted to answering questions like that? The point of filling in the questionnaire is not in the questions, and not in your answers, it is about you. Actually it is all about your experience while answering these questions. Of course, in order to create experience, the questions have to be right on the spot. It means that innovation management methodology is based on preparing the right questions. The right question, at the right time, at the right place, and for the right people (targeted).
Lets say you are filling in the questionnaire prepared to test the quality of communication within your company. Most of the questions may be something you, at one time or another, have asked yourself before. But having all the questions grouped in front of your eyes gives you completely different insight into the problem. The most important point about answering different questions on any subject is that, while answering them, you will see the various aspects of this subject. The whole process will simply get you into creative state of mind. You will get a chance to completely focus on the problem in a way you have never done before.
Another important benefit of communicating through questionnaire is that you will be faced with systematically gathered information, where the results are given in real numbers, that represent facts, not assumptions. How do you make a questionnaire? First, you will define certain categories important for innovation culture, like project management, internal communication, decision making, and so on. Than you will make questions that would shine the light on these specific areas. Any subject you take on, just divide it in subcategories, and create targeted questions per each category. You will then mix all the questions so the participants couldn’t realize clearly what you are targeting. Then you give them to people to fill them in.
When you get your answers, put them through statistical machine, and you will get the results. You can than make diagrams, or pie charts, and visually see what’s going on. This is called knowledge based on evidence. It is not about something you or others just had a foggy perception, but clear conclusions based on practical investigation. What’s important is that these results represent not only your opinions, but of all the people involved, preferably of the whole organization. Also, there is much more in these results than just numbers or graphs. Again it is about you, or people in your organization, or about your common perception of the problem. And, as we learned so far, the perception is what really counts, since people don’t make declensions based on reality, but on their perception of reality.
The perception of reality
When you get the results of the questionnaires and you show them to people in your organization what happens is that the perception of certain problems gets changed. How? Lets say the results of the questionnaire discovers that there is a problem in your internal communication. And it is not only the assumption you may had before, but a clear number, or part of the graph you made, that distinctly stands out in the diagram. Now you can all see that something has to be done. The reality was that you had a problem with communication, but you had no perception of it. After seeing the results of the questionnaire, the perception is going to be changed. And you would accept this change easily, because all of you have played personal role in uncovering the reality. In a sense, it is a democracy applied to business organization. And the whole point of democracy is not in getting the right answers, but the answers that are reached by majority of people. It is about consensus.
The importance of the change in perception in your organization is because this change has actualy started much before the results were in the open. The change has begun at the time questionnaires were filled in. While answering the question, everybody was undergoing a small change in perception. The process of looking into the problem, even from personal prospective, caused the small, subconscious change in people’s attitudes. Thinking about innovation, the people realized that their voice is important. The result of this process is that innovation capacity of the whole organization has increased. The organization has become more innovative.
Of course, the questionnaires are not always the perfect solution to all of the problems. Very often, to get the wider prospective on your organization, it is necessary to bring outside help. Even when preparing questionnaire on the specific subject, it is always good to get input from the outside of your organization. Specially if it comes from consultants who are not burdened by your company’s daily routine. Very often we get used to certain ways of doing things, and it is very hard to think outside of the box. For that, it is often necessary to bring people who do not know anything about how your organization works or operates. Specially if these consultants have previous experience in dealing with organization like yours, and if they specialize in innovation management. This way you would be able to get independent, unobstructed view on your problems. Of course, these outside consultants may need to take time to get into your organization, but it always pays at the end.
If we talk about innovation management consulting, we must mention that it is very much different from the traditional expert consulting. Expert consulting is when you get outside help to solve your specific expert problems. Than you have these experts telling you what to do. On the other hand, innovation consulting is different. It’s goal is to facilitate innovation among the people within your organization. The role of innovation management consult is not to come to your organization and innovate for you, but to use effective methodology, and stimulate innovation among your own people. So it is more the role of a facilitator, or a guide, who will work to empower your own people to become innovators. The end result of innovation management consulting should be the increased innovation capacity of your organization, and of course, profit.
There are many tools in innovation consultants toolbox, and the questionnaire, we talked about in this article, is one of the most effective. So take it seriously, because if you can ask the right questions, you are already half way to getting the right answers.
Miodrag Kostic, CMC
Director of VEZA d.o.o.
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