Saturday, December 22, 2007

The People are the Product - Part 3: Innovation

Successfully competing for the future will require continuous disruptive innovation. In organizations where the people are the product, each resource must be encouraged to participate in making innovation a consistent reality.

Often, in a traditional organizational model, this type of work is delegated to a small R&D group. In the world of software development and knowledge work, each person is a potential innovation source and an idea catalyst. With this mindset, it's easy to see how collaboration can readily become a powerful innovation accelerator.

Here are some practical ideas for increasing innovation across the organization:
  1. Opportunity - Google is deliberate about encouraging each employee to spend 20% of their time improving the products or researching new ideas. Many innovations at Google result directly from this general approach. When managing development teams in the past, I have insisted (and measured) that each person spend 2-5% of their time on "breaking the imagination barrier". Many positive improvements have resulted from even this small change, and never has it negatively impacted a project schedule.
  2. Exposure - In these days of global knowledge access, RSS news readers, on-line blogging and forums, there is no barrier to connecting with successful emerging practices and respected thought leaders. I personally read about 100 posts per day and always find something remarkable that can be directly applied to my situation.
  3. Connection - By combining social computing tools and processes with exposure to relevant ideas, you can create a powerful idea engine in your team or organization. In knowledge-based environments, it's fascinating to watch entire groups become energized by sharing ideas and leapfrogging to new levels of productivity. Tear down the walls by effectively using Wikis, Forums, Profiling, and Social Network Mapping tools.
Finally, challenge yourself and your organization with these questions from Gary Hamel's book, The Future of Management:
  1. How have you been equipped to be a business innovator? What training have you received? What tools have you been supplied with?
  2. Do you have access to an innovation coach or mentor? Is there an innovation expert in your unit who will help you develop your breakout idea?
  3. How easy is it for you to get access to experimental funding? How long would it take you to get a few thousand dollars in seed money? How many levels of bureaucracy would you have to go through?
  4. Is innovation a formal part of your job description? Does your compensation depend in part on your innovation performance?
  5. Do your company’s management processes—budgeting, planning, staffing, etc.—support your work as an innovator or hinder it?

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