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Innovation Capability or Capability and Innovation?

Bill Jarrard's picture

I was recently reminded of a workshop I did with one of my clients in Brisbane a while ago now. It was with the Human Resources section and we dedicated a couple of hours to exploring how they could Champion Innovation across the organization. 

In the planned agenda they had the Focus as ‘Developing a culture and capability of innovation’, which is one good way to look at it.  What they want to do is ensure people across the company have the skills, time, resources etc. to think more creatively and look for opportunities to innovate.  This was a great focus and allowed us to explore the situation using Six Thinking Hats and generate a range of ideas under the Green Hat.

However, before we started I wanted to create a discussion around what innovation is and what it looks like – not something that can be answered easily.  So what I did was modify the focus to ‘Developing a culture of Capability AND Innovation’

On the surface this may not sound too different to some, while for others it may seem to reduce the importance of innovation.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  In my view a profound understanding of Capability – in the statistical continuous improvement sense, is fundamental to sustainable innovation.  In looking at Capability we need to delve into the organisation’s policies, systems and processes to understand what they are doing.  Are they Stable, are they Capable, and are we measuring the right things? 

We don't usually need to go to the extend prescribed in Six Sigma, there is great power in knowing organisational processes are Stable and Capable, because then the anticipated outcome of any innovative ideas can be more confidently predicted.  And of course people in the organisation can focus their efforts better.

Of course you don’t need to have a fully Capable system in your organisation before you can start inspiring creativity and innovation.  There are lots of things you can start with right away, that will aid the achievement of Capability as well as Innovation. 

Start with skilling people in exploring what is happening using tools such as Six Thinking Hats, Mind Maps, and Directed Thinking Tools.  Ideation skills can be enhanced with training in how to Focus creativity, and empowered with the use of lateral thinking and other ideation tools, such as the Idea Box.  Find ways to help people gain an insight into how the mind works, and how to un-stick it when needed, and start discussions on where innovation is needed.

So with my client, we did just that and came up with over 100 ideas to start promoting innovation.  Of course many of these were unripe ideas that needed to be developed over the following weeks (and many will be left behind). And I'm delighted to have heard that a range of actions were taken to make Innovation happen across the organization.  and they tell it has been fun as well.