Frequently, innovators are asking me which ideas to prioritize and why. Here are some early steps you can take to ensure success in your innovation endeavors:
- First, focus on ideas that can solve a real business problem. Of course, there’s value in having gathered a bunch of creative people who love experimenting with emerging technologies. Those colleagues are eager to ideate and innovate with you, sometimes even under frustrating conditions. But while they’re eager to realize their own ideas, it’ll be hard to convince lines of business to sponsor such ideas and work side by side with you to overcome political and organizational barriers along the way. But if you take up a problem that has been raised by a business unit (sales, marketing, R&D) before, then chances are high that once you’ve shown that you’re capable of solving it, you’ll have found fans in the business who’ll help you with overcoming the hurdles ahead.
- Unsure how to identify a real business problem? Reach out to those who will benefit the most. As sales is most likely to benefit first, ask your sales colleagues what their pain points are that cannot be solved by corporate IT or any other technology business unit. Focus on those pain points where you’re confident you can come up with a solution using either mature and existing technology or with emerging technologies.
- Pick neither the easiest nor the most complex problem. You and your colleagues have probably just recently begun to learn how to collaborate while innovating and using new technologies. But trying to solve the hardest problem the company has been struggling with for years isn’t a recipe for success. At the same time, avoid trivial challenges, as these neither require innovation nor help build a positive reputation of your team’s talent across the company.
- Use six weeks as a rule of thumb. Innovation beginners need to build trust throughout the company. Trust is a prerequisite for budget access and valuable ideation time with business experts who won’t spend their time with you if they don’t trust in your ability to help them. Therefore, focus on problems you’re confident can be turned into a tangible proof of concept or a pilot within six weeks’ time (more or less). Avoid problems that you believe require more than eight weeks. Trust in your own gut feeling! After six weeks, interested audiences and stakeholders are starting to lose interest in your progress, and if you haven’t showcased anything tangible after 12 weeks, support will get close to zero. Regaining interest takes much more effort than keeping the initial population attentive and engaged.
Read the Forrester report “The Innovation Engine: Unleash Your Employees’ Potential To Innovate” for more insights on the importance of ideation. If you’re interested in learning how to build a business case for a certain idea, apply Forrester’s innovation business case guide.