Culture for Winning Product Innovation

Thursday, July 7, 2022

We have run product innovation projects for over 30 different organisations with people and consumers based in 100 different countries world-wide.  From all this work, it is clear that the long-term success of any organisation is determined by its culture and attitude towards product innovation.

This short blog is based on results from a Global Innovation Survey, and explores some of the practical steps that organisations can take to change their product innovation culture on a day to day basis.

For example, creating the right conditions that foster greater risk taking; encouraging teams to think more like "start-ups" by exploring new ideas that go beyond the short-term; or simply encouraging people to be more creative in solving everyday problems.

1. Create The Right Structure for Product Innovation

Our experience is that non-hierarchical and “flat” organisations are often the most creative and innovative. Innovative organisations encourage debate, challenge and risk taking at all levels. They also have people and functions in place with clear responsibility for thinking about the long-term pipeline of new products and new services (and who are not judged by short term business results). For example, the creation of global “innovation speed teams” is something that we see with many of the successful companies who we work with.

2. Provide Teams with Creative Facilitation Training

Running innovation and creative facilitation training provides another way of embedding a stronger culture of innovation. We recommend that organisations look to train internal “innovation champions” who can cascade the culture on a daily basis. For example, with new skills and techniques to encourage different ways of thinking or to lead internal workshop sessions in a different way. For further information, watch this video on how we run creative facilitation training.

3. Keeping Tracking Consumer Trends and Competitive Activity

The most innovative organisations we have worked with have smart have people in place who take the time to truly understand the deeper needs of their customers and consumers. This is normally combined with a passion to understand the business impact of relevant market trends and broader “mega trends”. Conducting regular reviews of direct and indirect competition is also a fundamental step in identifying future gaps that an organisation can look to exploit.

4. Encourage a Culture to Test and Learn

Successful product innovators have a continuous “test and learn” mind-set, with a culture to always learn and “try new things”. With some companies, such as Procter and Gamble, this is embedded into their annual business planning process, with every brand team having to present their “annual learning plan”. On day-to-day projects, the best teams we work with regularly develop and test new concepts, with good benchmarks in place to assess the true potential of a new ideas.

5. Run Regular Innovation Workshop Sessions

In our surveys, most people say that running regular and well-run innovation workshops, with clear objectives and a good facilitator, provides energy and focus for new thinking. For example, we run 1-2 day Hothouse™ workshops where we use a variety of creative facilitation techniques to generate a wide range of ideas, with optional support from artists and creative agents. Leading ideas are then refined with immediate feedback from key stakeholders or creative-thinking agents. All our workshops are run using Zip-Zap Ideas®, an online platform that is used to capture, refine and evaluate early ideas, including the option for online evaluation with target customers and consumers. Watch the movie below to find out more.

6. Use Online Innovation Tools for Wider Idea Collaboration 

Leading innovators are always looking to embrace new technologies that will strengthen and support “front-end innovation” activities. For example, online tools to gather fresh insights, or online idea sharing platforms that maximise the “power of minds” with collaboration across more diverse teams. We have been using online collaboration tools on all our projects since 2009. In 2020, we launched a new tool called Zip-Zap Ideas®, an online collaboration tool that is transforming the way teams share and create new ideas linked to a specific business challenge.  Watch this video to find our more.

7. Get Fresh Thinking from Creative Agents and Creative Customers

Involving external Creative Agents or Creative Customers is a another simple way to change the way an organisation thinks about innovation. This approach can provide a fast way to refine or get feedback to early ideas linked to a specific business challenge, or to help “kick-start” ideation projects with some fresh thinking. From 2019, we have enhanced this approach by using our online collaboration tool called Zip-Zap Ideas®. To see this approach in action, watch this short video.

Other Factors to Consider

In addition to the ideas listed above, there are many other small and practical steps that can be taken to drive a change in innovation culture. For example, changing the layout of the working environment can have a huge impact e.g. open plan but with “thinking and creativity zones”. Other techniques include a rewards scheme to encourage innovative behaviour including patent submissions; idea competitions with global teams; or regular sharing of new ideas and trends at business team level. 

Get in touch if you have any questions or comments - we'd love to hear from you.

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