What are the vital prerequisites to a successful innovation strategy? Well, you need to have some great ideas for a start. But ideas alone aren’t what’s going to bring you value. Even more important than ideas is the ability to validate, develop, and action these ideas.
And to do that, it’s important to make sure that you have the expertise available to carry out these tasks; you need to make sure that you have the capacity to innovate and the wherewithal to know how to implement innovation in the workforce.
Capacity is without a doubt the biggest factor driving innovation success.
Unfortunately, many businesses are discovering that they have insufficient capacity to innovate; that they’re facing major capacity problems that threaten fast innovation.
‘Expanding the organisation’s innovation capacity… is a business’ only source of long term advantage’, notes McKinsey. While the PwC Innovation Benchmark report states that ‘in an era of rapid technology and market change, companies in virtually every industry and of every shape and size must increase their capacity to innovate’.
If you’re finding that you have insufficient capacity to execute your business innovation vision, it’s important to identify what the problem is, and implement the most effective solutions to tackle the issue.
There are a number of different capacity problems that face businesses today. However, there are three very urgent issues that practically all companies experience:
One of the reasons why your organisation is so successful is because you’ve spent years developing and establishing processes that make you great at what you do. But these established processes often don’t allow for deviation from the norm, and it’s very easy for your people to get stuck in a certain way of thinking. It’s totally natural and normal.
However, innovation requires people to look at things from a different angle; to step out from tradition and try doing things in a different way; to take vague concepts and explore how these ideas could generate value. Businesses need people with knowledge of innovation, and the confidence to implement widespread change.
Solution: There are a number of possible solutions to this particular capacity problem, and the right option will largely depend on your own business circumstances. If money is no object, freelancers and consultants can help bridge the knowledge and execution gap. However, where budgets are tighter, internships (for entry level support) and digital marketplaces (for more experienced professionals) are more suitable.
Today’s landscape looks nothing like that of yesterday. Tomorrow’s landscape is impossible to predict. That’s because technologies are advancing at a more rapid rate than ever before, and experts are noting ‘an explosion in algorithmic capabilities, computing capacity… and beyond-human machine competencies’ in innovation.
Your team is successful because they’ve been selected for their individual skills that benefit the core business, and that empower them to conduct their day-to-day tasks effectively and efficiently. However, they may not have the niche skills, such as those mentioned above, that are needed to drive successful innovation in the digital age.
Solution: There are two primary solutions to this capacity problem. The first is to train employees in these niche skills, creating your own innovation-driving resources. The potential downside of this, however, is that should an employee leave, you’ve invested in their future with a competing company. The second option is to hire a temporary expert in the particular skill you need providing an ‘as-a-service’ innovation solution.
The Harvard Business Review suggests that ‘few executives or organisations have slack capacity to spend on new thinking’, and they’re definitely not wrong. At a time when more and more is being asked of your team from the senior leaders, you already know that your people are too busy to jump in on new projects, and you’re hesitant to ask.
And, if you do ask, you’re then faced with the problem of either taking that person off another project, delaying its progress, or asking them to conduct both tasks at once and potentially seeing your innovation project put on the back burner. It can be very tricky to find the right balance between core business operations and new directions.
Solution: You typically have three choices for tackling this capacity problem: reallocating resources, prioritising tasks, or expanding your time. The obvious advantage to the first two options, of course, is that you’re keeping your solution in-house. However, it’s important to consider the employee experience (and its role in retention), and how reallocations and reprioritisations could impact this. Sometimes, expanding is better.
Insufficient capacity to innovate doesn’t just stop you from innovating. It stops you from innovating in the right way. Today, with the landscape moving and evolving so quickly, there’s really only one way to innovate successfully: by doing it quickly.
Turning an organisation around takes time, especially if you’re a big company. And so there’s already a disadvantage there before you’ve even started. You can’t afford to bump into any other obstacles during your innovation journey, such as finding that you don’t have the right people to drive you in the direction you need to head in.
The risk of an insufficient capacity to innovate is that you miss out on ideas that later turn out to be crucial to the organisation's long term success; that you run into major problems further down the road because you missed out on critical opportunities.
Expand your capacity - for example by exploring research process outsourcing - and get your people in place to drive innovation success.