Q: What's the best way to drive tech innovation at my company?
A: U.S. businesses spend hundreds of billions of dollars per year on R&D in an effort to improve products and processes. Beth Storz is part of that equation: As president of Minneapolis agency Ideas To Go, she helps companies establish successful innovation initiatives. We asked her to tell us how to implement technology upgrades so that everyone feels involved in the process.
What department should be leading R&D?
For baby steps, start with operations, which should be developing the innovations for the sales department to sell. The folks in operations can tackle the questions that lead to innovation—the ones that sales can’t: Can we make it? Do we need to make it? Can we use it? Can we afford it? And, most important, Can we make money from it?
What absolutely doesn’t work is sitting around a table saying, “Let’s come up with something new, operations. Go innovate!”
So the sales department has no say?
That’s not to say sales should be left out of the process. After all, they have a unique perspective on the needs of the customer, firsthand information on what sells, what the consumer wants, and they know the competition.
How do I get my employees and teams to think about adopting tech innovation?
Make sure everyone has the right mindset. It’s easy to poke holes in any idea, so your team needs to suspend judgment. First, identify what’s good in an idea—what you like, where you see potential.
Deal with the “Yes, buts,” such as “Yes, but it’s too expensive,” by turning those concerns into problems to solve like, “How might we make it more affordable?”
This tricks the brain into coming up with solutions instead of blasting good ideas out of the sky.
How does innovation-management software help?
Most of these programs help you collect, organize and develop concepts. It allows multiple users to add ideas and tweak existing ones at any time. You can use it to quickly evaluate ideas and interest in them by allowing users to vote their co-workers’ or customers’ ideas up or down. And since everything added to the platform is warehoused, teams can build on concepts for evaluation whenever they’d like.
OK, but how do I make sure it doesn’t turn into a company time suck?
Designate specific goals, projects, initiatives, times and expectations. If it feels like you are wasting time, then open and shut the sessions so people have a time limit on when they can enter ideas and/or evaluate them.
Any recommendations for additional tools that can help?
The book Moneyball demonstrates how you can come up with something new and passionately go after it. Another book, Blue Ocean Strategy, is about creating true newness for your customers through innovation and what you can learn from outside your category. And the Front End of Innovation conference, held annually in Boston, features speakers and workshops dedicated to learning about and sharing innovation.