Research has shown that different sets of skills are needed for the various stages of the innovation process.
Innovation has become an increasingly prominent cornerstone for the development of both national and organisational strategies. The Indian government, for instance, through its policy ‘Decade of Innovations 2010-2020’ has set out to systematically strengthen its science, technology and innovation capacities. Innovation means the intentional generation and introduction of potentially useful new ideas, products, services and ways of working.
Innovations come in many forms (not just new technologies) and can benefit organisational performance through developing a unique product advantage over competitors, enhancing service delivery, improving efficiency or providing a new strategic direction. So how do you learn to become better at innovating?
You might think that innovation is just about coming up with enough creative new ideas, but a lot needs to happen to those ideas for them to turn into something that actually produces value. To help achieve the vision of exemplary innovation, organisations need to have the capabilities to operate well in all parts of the innovation process, from identifying opportunities, analysing problems, producing creative new ideas, assessing the value of ideas to putting ideas into practice. Much of this capability comes from ensuring that employees have the right knowledge, skills and motivation to engage positively with all parts of process.
Research has shown that different sets of skills are needed for the various stages of the innovation process. For example, someone with greater negotiation and influencing skills is more likely to overcome poor support from others and get their ideas implemented. Without the right employee attributes, organisations may undermine their innovation efforts. Training is one way to develop these attributes, but, unfortunately, most creativity training courses only focus on how to generate novel ideas and ignore the skills needed for implementation.
Based on the research evidence, we, at the University of Sheffield, developed in 2005 a new innovation training method called ‘CLEAR IDEAS,’ which was designed to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to both generate new ideas and put them into practice effectively. The IDEAS part (Illuminate the problem to be tackled, Diagnose the most important causes of the problem, Erupt with lots of creative ideas for dealing with the major causes, Assess the ideas for suitability, Select the best ideas to form your innovation) helps you learn how to analyse opportunities for innovation, generate new ideas to meet the opportunity and choose the best ones. The CLEAR part (Commit stakeholders to implementing the innovation, Lead a team with the right mix of skills, Engage potential innovation users for their views, Align resources and systems for delivering the innovation, Review goals and timelines for implementation) addresses five levers that need to be addressed for successful implementation of new ideas.
Over the past 13 years, hundreds of organisations from public, private and non-profit sectors have taken part in our CLEAR IDEAS training workshops and events. Feedback from these workshops has been extremely positive and we have seen significant improvements in trainees’ innovation competencies. Follow-up work has shown that this improvement of employees’ innovation knowledge and skills can lead to major impacts on organisational performance.
For example, leaders from a city council used the method to help them redesign an adult social care and reablement service that saved them £1.5 million in its first year of operation. A fire and rescue organisation improved the safety and efficiency of their fitting of smoke alarms through the solution of using Velcro pads to secure alarms to ceilings rather than drilling holes and using screws.
On a sectoral level, we used the method to build an innovation collaboration between academics and industry, which helped win a £3.9 million research programme grant for developing new technologies and strategies for ensuring the future sustainability of our water system.
If you develop the skills of your people to both create new ideas and put them into practice more effectively, then there is no reason why your organisation should not produce innovations as valuable as the ones we have described.
Dr Kamal Birdi is senior lecturer in Occupational Psychology, University of Sheffield, UK. Views are personal