Supporting Innovation? It Takes a Lot More Than Talking About Innovation

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Dec 9, 2013

Imagine coming home every day from school and there in the kitchen were fresh-baked cookies or home-made pies.

Every day there was something different. My mother was a baker who believed that everything had to be made from “scratch,” using no boxed items of any kind.

The only boxed cookies allowed in the house were Nilla Wafers — and that was temporarily because they were destined for banana pudding.

My mother was on my mind this week because when I started working for Martha Stewart Living, she would jokingly tell me that she could out bake Martha on a bad day. As a matter of fact, she said all that advice that Martha gives is what she already knew and that she had been doing it for years.

I must admit that my mother knew every trick in the book about anything, from coffee stains to ink and chewing gum removal. And, she is my yardstick for all baked items to this day.

My reply to her comment about Martha Stewart was that yes, you probably could out bake and out remedy her, but you did not know how to take it to the next level. She had an idea, but that was it.

Her reply to me was to just roll her eyes.

Sure you had the idea

How many times have you seen some innovative product and said that yes, you had given thought to that.  Or you may have said, “why did I not think of that?” You may have had an idea, and sometime later, you see the actual product.

But when it comes to innovation, it’s not the idea — it’s what you do with it.

My mother was not going to become the titan of domesticity like Martha Stewart because she did not have a plan. She did not know how to take the next step.

And for that matter, neither did I.

You cannot read a business article today without spotting the big “I,” as in innovation. Every company talks about it, every company yearns for it, but not every company will make it. Apple is an example of a company that has created a model for disruptive innovation: iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

Corralling the innovative organization from within

These three products changed our lives in so many ways, and they are the Mercedes’ of their categories. Sure, there are other smartphone’s, and tablets, and music players but the yardstick was created by Apple. “Me, too” products never excite anyone.

Late night TV is ablaze with commercials that will allow you to take our invention and move forward and become an overnight success. If it were only that easy?

So the question we come to is how can organizations corral this energy inside of our organizations that will allow us to be a disrupter? How can we create an innovation incubator that will allow new ideas to flourish? Most of all, what do you do with innovation beyond the original idea?

At Martha Stewart, someone came up with an idea based on the Pillsbury Bake-Off. The Pillsbury Bake-Off is a cooking contest, first run by Pillsbury Company from 1949 to 1976 as an annual contest. Since 1978, the contest has been held bi-annually. The next contest will be in November 2015.

We created and marketed a hybrid of this type of contest internally for a brief period, and it got everyone excited about entering — some as solo acts and some as teams. The premise was that everyone would get a shot at coming forth with their idea. There were several elimination rounds and then they had the finals. What was so remarkable was that everyone was so excited about their idea.

And the presentations showed that there were really some well thought-out ideas coming forth. We came up with a couple of product ideas as well as a new magazine concept aimed at a different demographic. But sadly, the turmoil that was “rocking the company” was what ultimately won out.

Open your employee’s eyes to the innovation process

This was important not because of the contest, but it opened the eyes of all employees to sub-consciously think about what could be. Let’s face it; we all have ideas but are frequently unable to figure out how to take them beyond the idea stage. This incubator idea worked because it showed everyone that ideas do not need to come from the leadership team but could also come from the workers within.

Innovative ideas are not always parented by the executive floor, and the entire organization needs to be let loose to this level of thinking. In other words, we need to let it be known that we cherish each and every piece of input from within our walls.

In this case, we had a team at Martha Stewart prepared to take the ideas and move them forward. We now have marketing, finance, HR, PR and all the other industrial age departments. The new organization has to task a department within that works on new ideas 24/7. Sure, we have R&D, but that seems such an outdated concept

All organizations support the idea of innovation. How could they not? But are they really supporting it?

Failure is always a given

If we are to drive towards innovative thinking, failure has to be an option. What we learn from failure should be the guiding light that leads to ultimate success. How many times have we failed, gotten up to try again, and in the end we ultimately succeeded?

Supporting failure is very critical to that ultimate success.

So next time you see that late night infomercial or that idea popped into your head, remember that it all starts with an idea — but execution will always be the key.

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