Can Innovation Be a Structured, Repeatable Process?

July 23, 2012
In order to build a long-term culture of sustained innovation, a structured process must be put into place especially in idea generation or ideation.
When innovation comes to mind, the first thing people might think of is creativity, spontaneity or a momentary stroke of genius. But can innovation occur out of a structured, repeatable process? The answer, in short, is yes. In fact, in order to build a long-term culture of sustained innovation, a structured process must be put into place especially in idea generation or ideation. Although it sounds counterintuitive to say "structure" and "ideation" in the same sentence, organizations need to conduct at least two ideation sessions each year in order to foster continued growth. A good innovation leader has the foresight to schedule regular ideation sessions year after year, and not just when sales are dwindling.
Ideation, or idea management, is part of a long-term innovation effort that, if facilitated intelligently, leads to successful new products or services. Even if a small percentage of concepts make it through the process, the payoff could be significant for the company. So schedule those bi-annual ideation sessions and invite members from various departments in your organization to participate. You'll find value in fresh perspectives from customer service, engineering, production, marketing and your salespeople. Here are some tips for hosting ideation sessions that will lead to the best possible outcomes.
  • Break up teams into people who know each other but are not "that friendly" with each other in order to minimize groupthink.
  • Vary the format as well as locations and times of ideation sessions. Predictability can kill ideation. Mix it up to get people out of their comfort zones.
  • Accept ALL ideas and get them written down on the board. You never know when a concept can be recycled for future use.
  • Build a database of ideas from which new combinations and solutions can be derived.

By holding regular ideation sessions, your organization is adopting a proactive strategy in the new product development process.

Apply the Rules of Order to Innovation

To get results in innovation, a structured, repeatable process is essential. Look to all imperatives of "Robert's Rules of Innovation":

  • Inspire
  • No risk, no innovation
  • New product-development process
  • Ownership
  • Value creation
  • Accountability
  • Training and coaching
  • Idea management
  • Observe and measure
  • New result, net reward

These rules of order are meant to be applied regularly as part of a sustainable growth strategy.

All these parameters should be continually utilized -- and not just when sales or ideas are low -- to achieve successful, lasting innovation.

Robert Brands is the founder and president of Brands & Co. LLC, and the author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival." As a former executive at Rexam Plastics and other firms, Brands gained hands-on experience in bringing innovation to market, creating and improving the necessary product-development processes and culture, and delivering "at least one new product per year to market."

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