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A Proven System for Successful Innovation

Image for blog post - jpegFor the past 25 years, I have been fortunate to work with more than 1000 innovators and business leaders at a variety of technology companies.

A common question I ask innovators is “How did you come up with this idea?”  The answers to those questions have provided a deep insight into the way in which innovative ideas are developed.

I have recently assembled the many pieces of “innovation knowledge” I have collected over the past 25 years into a system that allows companies to identify, develop and protect innovative ideas.  I call the system “Innovation Success Blueprint” and provide a brief summary of the system below.  Organizations that use this system can increase revenue, create a competitive edge in their market and develop an innovation culture that produces a steady flow of new ideas.

I’ve worked with many companies that execute a few of the eight parts of the system.  But, to get valuable results from your unique innovation plan, you must execute all eight activities to generate an “end-to-end” innovation system.  Companies that focus on all eight activities see powerful results and develop an innovation culture that produces a flood of innovative ideas.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting eight additional articles with details about implementing each of the eight parts of the system.

Here’s a brief summary of the Innovation Success Blueprint:

  1. Create a Unique Innovation Plan for Your Company – Ignite a creative fire within your organization to produce innovative ideas that are vital to your success.  This activity includes determining goals for your innovation plan, getting company leaders “on board” with the innovation plan and start developing innovation teams.
  2. Discover Innovation Opportunities – Learn to identify “innovation seeds” that grow into valuable business assets.  These innovation seeds are the starting point for brainstorming and ideation sessions.  You can find these seeds in customer feedback, market commentator articles and industry trends.  As you develop an innovation culture within your company, employees will begin to automatically identify innovation seeds on a regular basis.
  3. Consistently Generate a Flood of Innovative Solutions – When you begin discovering innovation seeds, your team begins developing innovative solutions that may include new products or enhancements to existing products.  These innovative solutions distinguish your company’s products in the marketplace giving you a competitive edge.
  4. Capture and Track Every Innovative Idea – Capture every idea so nothing slips through the cracks.  You need a simple system for employees to submit ideas – something they can do quickly when they have a “flash of brilliance.”  If people cannot easily submit ideas, they may wait until a later time and possibly lose the idea.
  5. Evaluate and Implement Key Innovations – Prioritize and implement the best innovative ideas to increase revenue.  Some ideas are not commercially feasible, or should be deferred to a later time.  It is important to consider multiple factors when evaluating innovative ideas.  And, your innovation review group needs to have a diverse membership to fully evaluate the innovative ideas.
  6. Protect Innovative Ideas – Secure intellectual property protection for key innovations to prevent others from copying your unique product features.  You should evaluate key innovations to determine which forms of intellectual property are appropriate for the ideas.  And, be sure your company agreements have the proper intellectual property clauses.
  7. Systematize the Innovation Process – Make innovative thinking a daily habit throughout your organization.  Consider adding innovation-related tasks to checklists and process lists so the topic of innovation becomes an integral part of all business activities.  Make innovation part of the company goals and individual goals to emphasize the importance of innovative thinking.
  8. Create an Innovation Culture – Build team engagement while developing profitable ideas.  An effective innovation plan creates an innovation culture throughout the organization.  Innovative ideas come from all parts of the company, not just the research and development group.  When you celebrate and reward innovative thinking, employees are encouraged to make innovation a daily habit.

By following the Innovation Success Blueprint system, your company can develop market-leading innovations that provide a strong competitive advantage.  If you want to talk with me about developing a Unique Innovation Plan for your business, click here to contact me and we can schedule a conference call.

5 Critical Events that Require Innovation Analysis

A successful Innovation Action Plan must include a system for identifying key innovation-related events and evaluating innovations prior to those events.  In some situations, you can lose the opportunity to protect your innovative ideas by making a public disclosure of the idea.  Here are five types of events that should trigger an innovation analysis in your organization.  Prior to each of these events, check to see if you are going to disclose key ideas that are not yet protected.

  1. Trade Show Participation – Will you be demonstrating or discussing innovations (including Intellectual Property) that is not protected?  If so, consider taking steps to protect those innovations prior to the trade show.
  2. Article (or White Paper) Publication – Check for any innovative ideas that are announced publicly in any articles or documents.
  3. New Product or Service Announcements – Any type of public announcement, such as press releases and broadcast interviews, should be evaluated for innovative ideas that have not yet been protected.
  4. Advertising Campaigns – Do any of your advertisements disclose company innovations?
  5. Sales Presentations – Will the sales presentation discuss innovative ideas contained in your products or services?
In my work as an Intellectual Property attorney I have seen many companies accidentally “give away” innovative ideas because they publicly disclosed the ideas before they were properly protected.  You can avoid this problem by identifying innovative ideas that will be disclosed during any of these five events.  Then, decide whether any steps are needed to protect those ideas prior to public disclosure.
If you have any questions about protecting innovative ideas in your own business, please click here to contact me.

Launching Your Innovation Action Plan

In this video I discuss three important steps you must take when launching an innovation action plan.  These steps will start a strong innovation program in your business that can increase revenue and provide a competitive edge in your market.

Watch this 5 minute video to start igniting a creative fire within your company.

Innovate by Streamlining Business Procedures

Line design. Project processMany businesses focus their innovative activities on product innovation, which can produce valuable company assets.  In addition to developing new products and new product features, businesses should look for ways to streamline business operations by innovating business processes.

Here is an approach to business process innovation:

1. Big Question:  Is the process necessary? The first question to ask when evaluating a business process is whether the process is necessary.  What is the purpose or end result of the process?  Is it still needed – does it provide value to the business?  You would be surprised how often I see clients with internal procedures that are followed because “that’s the way we’ve always done things” or “that’s what the ‘policies and procedures manual’ says”.  Before you attempt to improve an existing process, make sure it needs to be performed.  If not, don’t spend time “optimizing” the process, just eliminate it.

2. Identify the desired result of the process. Ask questions to determine the goal of the process.  Why was the procedure originally developed and Continue reading

Cultivating Innovation Is a Direct Path to Profit

Rear view of young professional who is drawing a tree with light bulbs on the concrete wall. Light bulbs as a concept of new business ideas.(Note: This article was originally published by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. at Copyright 2015 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Do you have people in your organization who say they aren’t creative? Maybe you’re even one of those people.

But don’t buy into this idea, because everyone is capable of developing innovative ideas, even those who say they are not “creative.” In my work with clients, I am frequently asked how to generate innovative ideas. And what I reply is that to identify seeds of innovation you can cultivate, you should examine the problems to be solved, and the unmet needs in your company or industry.

Those seeds of innovation provide a powerful starting point for developing the valuable innovations that will increase your revenue and market share. Once you know how to recognize them, you can discover these innovation seeds in every part of your organization.

1. Your sales department

Your sales team members should be able to identify seeds of innovation during their daily interactions with customers and potential customers. The salespeople can identify missing product features that customers request and that may already be provided by a competitor.

Direct customer interaction by members of the sales team provides valuable feedback regarding desired features, favorite product attributes and other issues. This information can help your company develop innovative new features that distinguish your products in the marketplace.

An observant sales group also identifies how customers use products. I have worked with many clients who learned about customer actions from interactions between the salespeople and customers. In many instances, the customer actions showed inefficiencies in the product.

These inefficiencies then became “innovation seeds” which, during brainstorming sessions, grew into product revisions that made the product more user-friendly and increased the product’s value to potential customers.

2. Your customer service

Your customer service department is also capable of discovering a variety of problems through customer complaints and other customer feedback. Problems reported by one customer are likely to be experienced by many customers.

Solving these problems can improve Continue reading

Innovation In the Pizza Business

A couple years ago, my family and I were vacationing in northern Michigan.  After spending a morning at a beach along Lake Huron, we decided to try a local pizza restaurant for lunch.  The restaurant was a typical pizza place offering both carry-out pizza and dining in their restaurant.  We found a table and ordered our lunch.  At that time, our two young daughters were accustomed to getting some crayons and a coloring sheet at restaurants to keep them busy.

After ordering, we asked the waitress if she had any crayons and paper for our kids to color while waiting for our pizza.  She told us that she did not have crayons, but would bring us something else for the kids to play with.  There were no other kids in the restaurant, so we didn’t know what kind of “toy” she might bring.  The toy was uncooked pizza dough.  Each of our daughters got a small plate with some pizza dough and flour (to keep the pizza dough from sticking to the plate) to play with.

Our kids loved playing with the pizza dough and made all kinds of things: a snowman, a leaf, a smiley face, rings for their fingers, and more.  For several days Continue reading

How to Build Innovation Into Your Business Without Creating Chaos

(Note: This article was originally published by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. at Copyright 2015 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Business leaders know that innovation is critical to the growth and success of a company. But implementing a company-wide system for even identifying innovative ideas often triggers a strong protest against any initiative that might cause disruptions to the operation of the business.

Employees are already overloaded, so it’s only natural that adding innovation activities, and the uncertainty that comes with innovation, is likely to be met with resistance. You can overcome this resistance by launching an innovation team rather than rolling out a company-wide innovation program. As an Innovation Strategist, I have found that it’s rarely, if ever, necessary or advantageous to involve all of your organization in the innovation efforts. Properly configured and supported, small innovation teams can generate a multitude of valuable ideas without upsetting the day-to-day operations of the business.

1. Identify innovation team members

Select a group of six to eight people who have shown an interest in innovation for your first team. Choose people who enjoy creative activities, who are strong leaders likely to be interested in piloting the new innovation team. Some companies select people from the same department or group within an organization, such as the design or development group. However, a diverse team with members from different parts of the business will be more successful in big picture innovation.

For example, the innovation team may contain representatives from Continue reading

Change Your Environment to Spark Innovative Ideas

Changing your environment can drastically improve your ability to discover innovative ideas.  If you work in an office most of the day, your work distractions will likely inhibit your ability to think creatively.  Unless you leave your office, it is difficult to get away from phones, email notifications, people stopping by with questions, and the pile of projects on your desk that remind you how many things need your attention.

Getting a change of scenery can eliminate or reduce many of those distractions to give your mind some “creative space.”  Here are a few ways you can change your environment to spark some innovations.

1. Inside/Outside – If you spend most of your time inside, go outside.  This can be as simple as going for a walk, or may involve driving to a park or other outside location.  Do something that lets your mind forget about the distractions you leave behind in your office.  If, instead, you work outside, try going indoors as a change of environment.  You can pick a quiet location, such as a library or museum, or pick a location with lots of activity, such as a coffee shop, restaurant or shopping mall.

2. Quiet/Noisy – If you work in a noisy environment, go find a quiet environment for some creative thinking.  Some people thrive in a Continue reading

7 Innovation Pitfalls that Prevent Your Ideas From Seeing the Light of Day

(Note: This article was originally published by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. at Copyright 2015 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Many entrepreneurs fail to leverage innovative ideas in their business. They want to grow their business and offer products with a competitive edge, but neglect techniques and systems that generate a flood of valuable ideas. As an Innovation Strategist, I have observed several common pitfalls that prevent entrepreneurs from identifying creative ideas that can grow their business.

  1. Disregarding Innovation as Too Costly

Innovation does not need to be a complicated, time-consuming activity. Learning a system for identifying and developing innovative ideas takes a bit of time, but it can create huge returns in the form of new products or new features. Once you and your team understand the value of creative ideas, innovation will become a daily habit in your business.

  1. Waiting to Get Bigger

Businesses of all sizes can benefit from identifying creative ideas. Continue reading

Treating Innovation as a Team Sport

Business Team Giving One Another High FiveMany businesses limit innovative activities to particular individuals or specific departments in the organization.  However, this approach often misses valuable innovations that could strengthen the business.

During my work as an Innovation Strategist, I’ve discovered that a better approach is to involve people throughout the organization and start building a culture of innovation.  Think of your business as an “innovation team.”  People from different parts of the company and with different job functions can work together as a team for purposes of generating innovations.  Everyone has creative ideas, so everyone should be involved in the process of generating innovations.  Brainstorming sessions can be more productive if you include people from different departments, who have a different perspective on the company’s activities.  Train everyone on the team how to identify innovative ideas and provide examples of successful innovations (in your business or other organizations) that produced dramatic results for the company.

Schedule innovation contests and structured brainstorming sessions to generate creative ideas.  Celebrate successful innovations that increase revenue, reduce expenses, or strengthen the company’s competitive advantage in the marketplace.  Encourage creative thinking as part of the everyday job activities by incorporating innovation-related tasks in project checklists, employee goals and company guidelines.

Although scheduled brainstorming meetings are valuable, it is also important to encourage people to share ideas with one another and develop innovations in a less formal environment.  This includes one-on-one brainstorming sessions and other impromptu gatherings to discuss ideas and solve problems.

Create your Innovation Team today and start developing an innovation culture in your business.