With a little imagination and effort, the best innovators use a range of cohesive techniques to keep ahead of the game, and even put on a sprint. “Figure out what problem you’re trying to solve first,” says Annie Parker, co-founder of Telstra’s start-up accelerator program, muru-D.
To solve your problem, be prepared to step outside your comfort zone, she says. Parker’s immersion in the start-up ecosystem has taught her that diverging from the norm is OK because everyone learns as they go.
“That’s the whole definition of entrepreneurialism: that you’re experimenting with doing things differently and trying new things,” she says. “If you accept that everybody’s in the same boat, then what have you got to lose?”
Integrate your innovation
Avoid having isolated pockets of innovation, the Executive Director of Operations at online education provider Ivy College, Roger Burgess, says. Stressing the value of integration to make gains, Burgess is part of the team leading Australia’s second most innovative company, as ranked by the Australian Financial Review.
“We started from the top down – we embedded innovation within our organisational strategy,” Burgess says. To gain traction, he adds, your organisation should adopt an equally robust strategy based on a culture of high performance. Every company has the capability to do that, he says, advising that it’s important to define and measure progress.
It’s also important to assess advancement constantly through management-led discussion. Oversight is key, according to Burgess, whose company’s innovation hub, IvyX, is designed to ensure all projects are judged on objective merit. Projects are divided into two-week “sprints” that increase the speed and volume of iterations to be tested and implemented.
Be open to new ideas
Effective, cohesive innovation may involve crossing all kinds of boundaries, from the architectural to the psychological. Ensure that an attitude of openness to new ideas permeates your office – consider designing the space with teamwork in mind.
Ivy College is so profoundly invested in innovation that 65 per cent of its office space is allotted to creative collaboration. As a result, ideas can easily cross-pollinate through sharing across people and departments.
Avoid a silo mentality and, above all, keep iterating. “There is no such thing as failure, only insight for future innovations,” Burgess says.
There is no such thing as failure, only insight for future innovations.– Roger Burgess, executive director of operations, Ivy College
Understand your customers
Be willing to get inside your clients’ minds by verifying what they want done and proceeding in a committed, measured style sustained by staff who have racked up abundant experience.
Ben Ross, general manager of design and user experience at accounting software firm MYOB endorses a strategy called the “jobs-to-be-done framework”, devised by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen –who once said you should “crawl into the skin of your customer”.
The empathic, task-oriented framework hinges on addressing how much a certain product or service fulfils a user’s agenda. Ross explains that the crux is the gap between what users want done and their level of satisfaction.
“This is the sweet spot, allowing innovation and creation to flow,” he says, citing how this framework has supported MYOB innovations including its Smart Bills software, which captures key invoice data.
Once a sweet spot or job opportunity has been identified, MYOB pursues the “build-measure-learn” process. This empowers development teams to build lightweight solutions, gauge client responses, learn from mistakes and rebuild software fast to deliver the best outcome for clients. Ross says one core knock-on benefit is a sustained, rapid pace of change, ensuring constant innovation.
Make mistakes and move on
Redefining failure encourages staff to experiment by stepping outside the norm and even making mistakes. “Failure is what helps you learn to infer what the next right step is,” Parker says.
By failing fast, your organisation will make much greater headway, she says. Having the right people, such as experienced staff, fuels progress.
“In my team, we’ve specifically recruited people who have been there, done it and got the t-shirt,” Parker adds, citing an entrepreneur-in-residence who has founded a host of start-ups. “Always, the know-how obtained through experience is gold dust.”
Idea in brief
- Experiment boldly
- Have committed, experienced staff on-board
- Do particular jobs that users want done
- Ensure innovation underpins your whole culture
- Measure progress precisely