Innovation has become a bit of a business buzzword. Every CEO and CIO worth their salt wants to be seen to be on the forefront, bringing new products and services to a market. However, it doesn’t always go to plan, and rushing in to things head first without the proper due diligence can land a company in hot water.

For example, Amazon last year reported losses of £273 million, with much of this being blamed on heavy spending in new initiatives which are yet to bring in a substantial return. With this in mind, business leaders are likely to be keeping a close eye on where and how their money is being spent. And as the results of an innovation programme are not always obvious to see, it becomes harder to justify spending money on incremental changes, while the more disruptive ones may be too risky for certain businesses. However, with the right tools, it is possible to tell your innovation story in a successful way. Here’s how…

Too many cooks can spoil the broth, and the same can be said for innovation! Using a crowd sourcing platform to collect innovative ideas is a great way of finding better ways of working, but pay attention to how many ideas you collect.

Sifting through hundreds or thousands of ideas is certainly a daunting task, but there are solutions out there. Using a crowdsourcing platform will often remove the majority of the legwork, utilising the crowd as decision makers, and implementing algorithms which automatically graduate ideas which are popular and in the case of the Predictions solution, financially valuable. This automatic graduation leaves you the opportunity to review only the most popular, and therefore the most realistic ideas.

Don’t go mental, go incremental

Innovation is often associated with big, disruptive ideas, tantamount to creating the next iPhone. However, by focusing solely on these, organisations risk putting all of their eggs in one or two very big baskets, which are unlikely to give you a quick return. Bringing in radical new products or new ways of working can be risky, and many business leaders will be cautious in investing significant amounts of resource and money into something that might not work – especially if they already have a way of working that is adequate.

What’s more, the incremental changes are usually the ones which add up to big, disruptive ones.

An alternative to this is to look for new ideas that can make incremental or operational improvements, to complement those disruptive ideas. As you’re spreading your innovation investment, you’re more likely to see a return in a shorter space of time, building a demonstrable RoI and achieving buy-in for your innovation programmes (which is key when you do come to gaining support for those larger, disruptive ideas) from key internal stakeholders. What’s more, the incremental changes are usually the ones which add up to big, disruptive ones. This is called emergence.

Use your crowd!

Your colleagues and counterparts have helped you come up with a great idea, so why not trust them to go all the way? In 1987, Jack Treynor, a finance researcher, took 56 students from the University of Southern California and asked them, as a group, to guess how many jellybeans were in a jar. As a group, they were only 2.5% off the actual amount. Think back to that great nineties quiz show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, where contestants had three “life lines”: Phone a friend, 50:50 and ask the audience. This is early crowdsourcing, and always proved more accurate than phoning a friend, or taking a risk with going 50:50!

By applying this logic to your innovation programme, you are able to get an accurate prediction of how much an idea will cost to implement and how long it would take to deliver. A recently developed module for Mindjet’s SpigitEngage platform, aptly called “Predictions”, allows the crowd to judge whether they think a project will cost more or less than a certain amount. Clever algorithms take this data, analyse it and eventually produce an accurate number. By quantifying innovation in this way, innovators will have a much easier job justifying innovation spend to CFOs and business leaders.

Don’t go it alone

Methods of innovating differ from business to business and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. On one hand, spreading your bets with lots of small incremental initiatives is a safe bet, while on the other, big disruptive ideas have the potential to transform your business, but are risky. However, by getting the crowd involved in both the idea generation and the ROI prediction, innovators are able to take a lot of the guesswork out of innovation.

By James Gardner

About the author

James Gardner is Senior Vice President of Products at Mindjet, the world leader in SaaS solutions for enterprise innovation management. He has over a decade of experience leading innovation strategy for large organisations, such as Lloyds Banking Group and the Department for Work and Pensions. James has also written several books about innovation, including “The Little Innovation Book,” “Sidestep and Twist,” and “Innovation and the Future Proof Bank,” all of which help others start practising innovation within their own organisations.

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