Developing a cadre of emergent innovators
Many aspects of innovation depend upon creative insight, passion and the drive to overcome setbacks. But success is also influenced by the quality of the craft work surrounding the many facets of successful innovation, and the ability to deploy and interpret best practice.
The history of innovation shows that successes often involve teams that already had substantial experience, for example by being formed by being carved out of an existing mature organisation, or had already been through a number of previous apprentice cycles. And because innovation teams are often small, gaps in the available skills are very likely.
Allowing innovation teams to learn through failure cycles is a strategy, but one which is unlikely to be competitive in the future. There are many unavoidable risks in innovation projects without adding to these by lack of knowledge of the 'tools of the trade'. These include how to lead creative ideation, how to best engage users, establishing value, preparation of a business case, networking with the wider innovation supply base, understanding how to lead a supply chain, delivering a compelling pitch, as well as the domain specific competencies.
Innovation modules should be part of the training plan for potential innovation leaders, but there also needs to be a more pervasive exposure of people to the features of effective innovation.
One potent approach to embed these skills is to run a periodic innovation competition where teams selected to compete on the basis of a real innovative idea are given tailored training and support during the competition process. An example of this is the Innovation Tournament, a training model offered by Cambiio through a number of established business schools. Many organisations have successfully established competitive training schemes of this sort.
The innovation tournament approach has many useful features:
- It focuses training on people who have identified themselves as potential innovators by entering the competition and passing through the selection gate for their idea
- The training is given as they are working on their project, an approach that has been shown to be highly effective in imparting training that remains very 'sticky' compared with training delivered outside such a context
- The participants become highly motivated and generally devote a significant amount of their own time, leveraging the investment made by the organisation
- By assuring senior executive support, an innovation tournament acts as a catalyst to drive through awareness and behaviours across the levels of management and functional support.
- The internal and external PR that is possible from such schemes sustains a positive image for innovation and innovators
- These schemes are a very effective opportunity for wider talent spotting.
Variants of this approach are practiced by several leading organisations, and can be seen as a very efficient means to create a cadre of people with competencies and experience without the costs and cash burn of substantive innovation projects, although experience has shown that many finalists in such innovation tournaments go on to develop their ideas as part of their organisation's core business.
Innovation Governance Checklist
- Is there a scheme to develop skills relevant to innovation?
- How well is this scheme targeted at people most likely to lead or be members of innovation projects?
- Is the a periodic opportunity for emerging innovators to make their presence known and receive target training, eg through a competitive process?
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