Innovation should be important to all organizations. And it is. It’s more a matter of execution for many organizations, according to CB Insights State of Innovation report (registration required). According to the report, 84.9 percent of corporate strategy leaders said innovation is very important, but 78 percent can only focus on incremental changes. Further, about 60 percent of companies said it takes a year or longer to produce new products.

So, where is your organization along the innovation spectrum and how can your company encourage innovation in the workplace? We talked with some experts who offered the following advice. 

Imagine Innovation on a Spectrum

“Thinking of innovation as a spectrum, and asking yourself what kind of innovation your organization is seeking to create should be the first step,” BHDP Architecture’s Brian Trainer and Patrick Donnelly wrote this month. “As polio vaccine discoverer and historic innovator Jonas Salk has said, ‘Find the right questions. You don’t invent the answers, you reveal the answers.’”

Trainer and Donnelly offered four waypoints along the innovation spectrum:

  • Iteration: Incremental change to an existing product or process.
  • Evolution: Significant change to an existing product or process.
  • Revolution: Something new or an historic change to a product or process.
  • Disruption: Something new that creates an entirely different market.

“Do you need to catch up to the competition, maintain your lead or completely shake up your industry?” they wrote. “Consider where your organization falls among these four waypoints.”

Related Article: Business Innovation Is Moving to the Edge

Culture Must Support Risk, Experimentation

Greg Raiz, chief innovation officer of Rightpoint, said the biggest reason he sees companies struggling with innovation is culture, because it doesn’t support risk and experimentation. Innovation doesn’t happen overnight, though. “The overnight disruptive success of the iPhone, Google, Amazon and Netflix all took more than a decade,” Raiz said. “Companies that want to innovate have to make it part of their long-term culture.”

Companies have to recognize that innovation will traditionally disrupt and sometimes cannibalize existing processes, systems and business, he added. “This,” Raiz said, “can be scary, but it’s much better to lean into innovation and disrupt from within rather than having a competitor cause the disruption from outside.”

Related Article: Execs Are in the Driver's Seat for Innovation Success 

Innovation is Not a Geographic, Departmental Mandate

Companies that think innovation is a departmental or geographic issue need to create a plan to weave innovation into the general fabric of the organization, according to Raiz. “This requires a company culture where individuals feel safe to propose new ideas,” he added. “Many companies are already trying to do this but are finding it difficult to implement. It’s important that executives encourage both new ideas and that they don’t punish occasional failures.”

Learning Opportunities

Bake Innovation into the Day-to-Day 

Innovation needs to be part of a companies’ day-to-day work, Raiz said. In order to do so, there needs to be both the time and budget allocated for experimentation and pushing internal products, sites and teams to the next level. “For companies looking to just begin the process of innovation they need to incorporate innovation into their businesses,” he said. “This starts with simply factoring innovation into their long-term growth strategy.”

Related Article: Don't Wait for the Innovation Lottery: A Deliberate Approach to Ideation

Don’t Put Innovation into a Silo

Creativity and innovation are incredibly important to business growth, but in practice can often feel like distractions to getting “real work” done, according to Claire Alexander, general manager for Capterra. This, she said, leads to the creation of separate departments with “innovative” talent. “Money is spent and the impact on the business is frequently … debatable,” Alexander added. 

Capterra, instead of siloing off innovation, holds a 24-hour hackathon (they call it a “Capathon”) to remind everyone they are “creative beings with agency to imagine new ways of approaching work.” For some, Alexander said, this takes the form of exercising a skill that has nothing obvious to do with work: an account manager taking headshots, engineers and marketers discovering they all play instruments and holding an impromptu jam session. For others, it involves applying the skills they already have to solve pain points in their day-to-day jobs.

Foster Game-Changing Ideas

Alexander also said her organization encourages room for projects that can have game-changing implications for the business. Individuals with expertise in their field often drive these ideas, but also realize that they need help from other departments to give their ideas 'full flight.' “These self-organizing, cross-functional teams then have the dedicated space to ideate and prototype, resulting in some pretty jaw-dropping opportunities for the business,” Alexander said. “While no means fully-baked, the ideas get far enough to prove they are worth pursuing more formally, and the teams that developed them are doubly invested in their success.”

Related Article: Innovation Is No Laughing Matter

Innovation: ‘Default Way of Doing Business’

Capterra has learned through fostering innovation that the opportunity to interact across teams, learn something new and potentially see an idea shape the course of the business is incredibly valuable for its culture, Alexander added. “And with projects from ‘Capathon’ making their way into the daily course of business,” she said, “the event serves to emphasize our expectation that innovation is simply our default way of doing business.”

fa-solid fa-hand-paper Learn how you can join our contributor community.