“An Innovation Blast Project is the exclusive exchange, analysis, and development of ideas and concepts that are meant to accomplish an objective or set of objectives.”
Innovation has become a management buzzword within organizations around the world, however many organizations fail to truly commit to it. Innovation within organizations is often practiced as a number of disjointed and scattered efforts with little direction or guidance. Many models are built to support innovation but they often do not pay heed to the core principles required to develop an innovative culture. Those principles include space, time, meaningful support, awareness, and response capabilities. An innovation blast project is not so much a model for innovation as it is a guide for organizational management on how to design and support an innovation culture through series of projects. The blast in the title comes from the raw creativity that collaboration and the mashing of minds towards a common objective creates. Innovation blast projects are a way of separating innovators from the organization with the intention of creating an entrepreneurial mindset. The planning of such projects should include tools to spark creativity, reward collaboration and participation, and to communicate with the organization.
New Experiences– New experiences facilitate creative thinking which in turn facilitates innovation. Exposing the Innovation Blast team to new experiences during the project is an excellent way to enhance the value of that project.
Creative Type Competencies– Some individuals are able to formulate ideas in such a way that they can be applicable to a given situation. They have the ability to direct creativity and utilize it in a way to build and drive new value added concepts.
Time– Innovation requires time. Furthermore the time should be unscheduled within a given overall project period. Put the right people in the right place with a given problem and provide them enough time and results are guaranteed to happen.
Separated from Bureaucracy – An Innovation Blast Project must be separated from organizational bureaucracy to be effective and provide the greatest value. Roles and ranks should be eliminated entirely during the project phase to facilitate communication and sharing of ideas.
Championed–An Innovation Blast Project should have a leader or cadre to act as Champion. This champion should be removed from the project and serve as a communications conduit between the organization and the project team. This will allow a project to remain separated from organizational bureaucracy while giving the project the support needed to suggest and implement changes that would otherwise be suppressed.
Breakthrough Ideas or Concepts–Breakthrough ideas or concepts are key to sustaining competitive advantage. Organizations must continue to develop or acquire these ideas and concepts in order to provide value for their customer base. Experience has shown that these types of ideas tend to originate from smaller organizations. Larger organizations are at a distinct disadvantage given the natural suppression that occurs due to bureaucratic inefficiency and other repressive factors.
Entrepreneurial Mindset–I define the Entrepreneurial Mindset as the desire and action of an individual to create or develop something in order to obtain tangible benefits for both the organization and for themselves.
Empowerment–A key to the entrepreneurial mindset is empowerment. The individual must be empowered by the organization to support the entrepreneurial mindset.
Innovation and an organization’s development of a culture that supports that innovation, is the key determinant of long term competitive advantage and success. Creativity and innovation are behind all of the products and services consumers own and desire. Recently innovation has had a renaissance as the economy has globalized, flooding the market with new ideas and fusions. Immigrants bring their own unique perspectives and when meshed with new surroundings seek to find new ways to apply those perspectives in order to build value. Food is an obvious example, phones and their rapidly evolving features are another example, fitness has seen many ethnically inspired fusions, production has been redefined by Japanese efficiency, and the list goes on.
Those organizations that either do not support innovation adequately or have a bureaucracy that indirectly stifles it, will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. The reasons behind organizational resistance to innovation are numerous and most are hidden with the result that the organization supports creativity and new ideas on the surface, but strongly resists them within itself. One of the most common reasons for this suppression is that innovation by nature is chaotic. The creative phase cannot easily be controlled without diminishing the benefits of that creativity. That lack of control is worrying to organizational leaders who by nature crave and desire to assert their authority out of interest for self-preservation and relevance. Another reason is that innovators tend to be difficult to manage effectively. They do not conform well to structure or ritual tasks and activities. They crave challenge and organizations find this to be taxing and distracting to leaders regardless of the value the innovators impart.
Perhaps the most worrying reason is the inability or lack of desire for leaders to champion new ideas. To adopt and support an idea carries a deal of risk which tends to increase the higher a leader is within the organization. The mentality of many leaders is that if they are not required to support or promote innovative initiatives then it is simply an unnecessary risk to do so.
Innovation also struggles to take root within the physical confines of the organization. The proximity of potential innovators to resistance factors such as their functional activities, devil’s advocates, employees fearful of change, etc all make innovation at headquarters or other offices difficult. Successful organizations have made their offices more collaborative and allow creativity to inspire their design. More often than not though, initially successful organizations find that their core competencies and products were developed in a garage, basement, small office, etc. and not within the structured confines of their current physical location.
In an entrepreneurial culture such as the United States innovation must be rewarded to a degree that encourages it while also outweighing the potential benefits of pursuing innovation outside of the organization. Many great innovations have found themselves outside of the organization where they were developed because the potential reward for pursuing it alone outweighed the benefits the organization would provide. Loyalty in an era of easy layoffs and disappearing pensions is cheap. The reality is that money shouts and subjective reward is only a whisper.
Innovation Blast Projects combine the principles which underlie successful innovation efforts. They have existed in many successful organizations for years. Some of mankind’s most powerful achievements have resulted from similarly designed initiatives. The Manhattan Project is a classic example of such a project. The Enigma code breakers are another example.
The five principles which underlie successful innovation are space, time, meaningful support, awareness, and response capabilities. Each component is required in order to maximize the value of an innovation initiative. The use of such projects provides balance against the bureaucracy of an organization, the hidden agendas of individuals within that organization, and the naturally occurring barriers to collaboration between individuals. When the five principles are adhered too, the organizational initiative or development project can be said to be an Innovation Blast Project.
The first principle most often minimized or ignored is that of space. A project needs space that can be considered removed from the organization when it comes to functional activities. This might be a large room in the basement of the office or a hotel in a different state. The end result is that functional activities of the organization do not interfere with the project or the staff taking part in it. This replication of the garage or basement mentality gives the project staff a place to call home base and encourages a value added centralized utilization of that space.
The second principle is time which a project needs in order to succeed. Ideas will be introduced, torn apart, redesigned, tested, redesigned again, etc in order to produce meaningful results. This requires time which the organization must provide in order to see benefits from the project. However Innovation Blast Projects should not be open ended as pressure from a limited time frame can and will help produce a mentality that produces results.
The third principle is that of meaningful support which reflects the support that holds an individual of a senior enough position within an organization to provide the resources and protection a project needs in order to succeed. A project without meaningful support will rarely make the impact it needs to warrant implementation or even review from the organizational leadership.
The fourth principle is awareness. Individuals on a project team need to have awareness capabilities which provide information that is relevant to the project. If you take a group of engineers and put them in a room and tell them to come up with a new HR strategy they might be hopelessly lost because they lack awareness of HR, however taking one of those engineers and including him or her in the same project might produce some interesting ideas…just a suggestion.
The final principle is response capabilities. The project must include individuals that have proven track records with the development of responses and thus have a high response competency. They have experience with taking situations and resolving them successfully. They are able to resolve the kinks and add value during the duration of a project.
1. Determine the objective or objectives of the project under consideration.
2. Determine a time frame for the project based on the urgency and or importance of successfully reaching the objective. Ensure that the time frame is adequate given the scope of the objective. This will help you better determine the project team size and composition.
3. Determine the location where the performance of the project will take place. If the location is within the physical location of the organization make sure that location is isolated and removed from the functional activities of the organization. For some projects an external location might serve to stir creativity and spur intersections of ideas.
4. Determine who the champion will be for the project. That individual should not participate directly in the project, but rather should ensure that the project has the resources it needs from the organization. In addition the champion should serve as the conduit between the organizational leadership and the project group. He or she will protect the project group from hidden agendas and the influences of other repressive factors such as devil’s advocates.
5. Ensure the composition of the team not only includes those that are aware of the relevant components of a project and its objectives but also those who have a high response competency. A blend of both will serve the team very well.
6. Set parameters for regular communications or feedback from the project team that will be disseminated by the organizational leadership. This should include format, frequency, and avenues for feedback. Remember the first communication should be delayed as the group must develop and coordinate themselves before any advancement on the objective can begin.
7. Provide the project group with the objective of the project. There is no need to set leadership roles at this time or any roles for that matter. Groups that are pursuing an understood objective will naturally organize themselves in a way that ensures the best chance of success. Design the incentive benefits in a way that is collective for the project group and does not overly favor the individual. This will ensure collaboration, participation, and reduce the influence of hidden agendas.
8. Let the project group go and monitor communications and reports as they come in.
A. Mix up the groups a bit to allow interesting ideas to be brought forward. Include individuals that have no direct relevance to the project or the objectives in order to increase the possibility of intersections and breakthrough ideas. The engineer being involved in a HR project as mentioned before is a great example of what this means.
B. Incentivize involvement and participation in projects so as to maximize the value each individual provides. Debrief participants through survey or discussion to determine the value each individual provided and how their involvement might benefit future projects.