Making Innovation Work in the Real World

Andre Yee, Senior Vice President, Eloqua | 8/1/2011 | 29 comments

Andre Yee
Innovation is a hot topic in the IT industry. Everyone wants to create innovative products and processes, but no one knows how to make it happen. More specifically, no one seems to have time to make it happen.

Admit it. At times, doesn't innovation seem absolutely incompatible with the rhythm of the IT organization? Many IT organizations and small technology companies are driven by the urgent rather than the important. Sure, innovation is important, but how does it stack up against getting a bug fixed for a customer at 4:57 p.m. on a Friday afternoon?

How do technology organizations support innovation in the busy rhythm of the real world? Here are a few principles to keep in mind if you want to make it work.

Create time for innovation
Innovation generally doesn't occur in the "spare change" of your schedule. Ideas can occur in the most random of moments, but for an idea to evolve into an innovation, you must schedule in time for the process to complete. Google is famous for allocating 20 percent of developers' time to innovation projects. This has led to a number of feature enhancements and successful products, like Gmail, Google Talk, and Z.

Perhaps you won't get your senior management team to agree to 20 percent, but try something smaller. At my company, we've implemented our version of something called "FedEx Day." (It's not our idea: read more about "delivering innovation overnight" here.) FedEx Day is set aside for developers to think and create freely, away from requirement documents and use cases. The idea of FedEx Day is to code, test, and ship working code all in a day.

Yes, it costs the company a day of normal productivity, but the return is well worth it. Recently, one of the FedEx Day projects turned into a new, more efficient workflow engine for our product.

Celebrate innovation
Look for bright glimmers of innovation and celebrate them, in both formal and informal ways. For example, we turn FedEx Day into a friendly competition, in which teams compete for the (unbelievably tacky and ugly) Feddy Award. The point is this: Having fun and recognizing success ensure that innovation remains a high priority in your organization.

Innovation isn't just about technology
Sometimes innovation in a technology organization has nothing to do with technology at all. It also occurs when someone re-engineers our quality processes to deliver better results or finds a way to train new team members more effectively. Building a culture of innovation means identifying and celebrating it in all stripes.

Constraints are good
Some believe that innovation works best with no time constraints, an overabundance of resources, and a pristine environment. (When you find that job, let me know, so that I can wake you up, because you're dreaming.) Yet I believe that constraints on resources, time, and context are not only inevitable but actually helpful. Constraints sharpen our wits, focus our thinking, and therefore help us innovate. Don’t fall into the false notion that you need to be free from all constraints in order to create.

What do you think? How have you been able to stimulate innovation in a busy organization? Please share your ideas.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
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The_Phil   Making Innovation Work in the Real World   8/14/2011 4:04:09 PM
Re: Small innovation counts too
Susan,

As we all know, the bigger the risk, the greater the rewards in the end.
Susan Fourtané   Making Innovation Work in the Real World   8/14/2011 7:31:21 AM
Re: Small innovation counts too
Those are the ones who take risks, succeed and make fortunes while others are comfortably waiting to see if the ideas work to copy them. 

-Susan 
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The_Phil   Making Innovation Work in the Real World   8/12/2011 7:28:16 PM
Re: Small innovation counts too
True,

And those are the types of people that do very well in the entrepreneurial game!
Susan Fourtané   Making Innovation Work in the Real World   8/8/2011 12:17:47 PM
Re: Small innovation counts too
@The_Phil, 

Or you can sell the startup to someone else for a considerable amount of money. It's a way of living on your ideas. Now, for doing this you need to be really creative and innovative. 

-Susan 

 
User Ranking: Blogger
The_Phil   Making Innovation Work in the Real World   8/5/2011 10:54:53 PM
Re: Small innovation counts too
fbpmt,

Not necessarily. It's just startup with a twist & more $$.
fbpmt   Making Innovation Work in the Real World   8/5/2011 9:32:58 PM
Re: Small innovation counts too
The_Phil -- and thus defeating the purpose of the startup??
User Ranking: Blogger
The_Phil   Making Innovation Work in the Real World   8/5/2011 9:03:20 PM
Re: Small innovation counts too
fbpmt,

It's simple, once you have the idea, you just have to find someone with alot of money and/or connections to market and sell the idea for you. The only catch is, you're not the sole leadership anymore. You have to answer to more than just yourself. ;)
Andre Yee   Making Innovation Work in the Real World   8/5/2011 5:16:58 PM
Re: Small innovation counts too
@fbpmt - I understand.   But you know what's funny?  I have been in 150 person R&D org and also small shop w 20+ indiv.  In every place I've been, there's always a sense of more work than we have people to do.   No one has time to innovate unless you carve out the time... it doesn't have to be much, to be meaningful
User Ranking: Blogger
fbpmt   Making Innovation Work in the Real World   8/5/2011 3:56:28 PM
Re: Small innovation counts too
@Andre Yee - yes, the startup derives and implements new ideas but not necessarily able to implement quickly. and there is a shortage of resources, time and people, and much to do!

I suppose there is a happy medium  - cap the new ideas to a certain level, otherwise only new ideas will be catered to and the mission statement will be ignired, thus the startup doesnt start up!
User Ranking: Blogger
Andre Yee   Making Innovation Work in the Real World   8/5/2011 3:19:04 PM
Re: Small innovation counts too
@fbpmt - isn't the very essence of a startup to innovate?   That's the only edge a startup has.   You're not bigger, don't have more money but successful startups have ideas and the ability to execute quickly.
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Page 1 / 3   >   >>


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