I went to an interesting talk with Twitter and Good Innovation about how to think differently about innovation. They mentioned some really good ideas such as creating “yes-and” environments where no one is allowed to shut down ideas by saying “no” or “but” but instead has to build on ideas.
I think understanding ‘innovation’ as a thing within an organisation can be started by looking for parallels, e.g. learning. Learning is something that is valued by an organisation, so they set up Learning & Development Team who arrange formal training opportunities such as funding college courses, webinars, mentoring, job-shadowing, etc. All of these are important because different people need different opportunities in order to learn. But what this also does is communicate to people that learning is valued by the organisation, which then encourages them to learn by reading a book, listening to a podcast, or talking to a colleague. Learning only happens at work when people can see that the organisation values learning and provides some opportunities, but it’s the communicating that it is valued that is the important part. And that doesn’t happen because a few emails are sent to people, it happens when people can see that an organisation walks the walk rather than just talking the talk.
Innovation can be thought of in a similar way. There needs to be a formal programme for innovation that has dedicated people, budget, strategic mandate, etc., and it needs to deliver innovations, but equally important is that as part of embedding innovative thinking and practices across the organisation it doesn’t isolate itself from the rest of the organisation so much that people think only the innovations team can be innovative. So a part of their work should be encouraging, finding and supporting innovation across the organisation.
Innovation can and should happen in all parts of and at all levels of an organisation, but just like learning, it requires formal programmes and informal opportunities and practices, all of which are valued by the organisation and so valued by people.