Here is how you can innovate in 90 days.

Innovation is hard. Lots of initiatives fail and plenty of innovative companies don’t make it in the long term. Think Polaroid, Nokia and Sun Microsystems for a start. But there is increasing evidence that innovation can be driven in just 90 days.

A recent Harvard Business Review article about heart-focused rather than head-focused innovation, detailed the story of a down at heel hospital that despite all other attempts still languished at the bottom of the list of US hospitals for patient satisfaction, which in turn affected their funding. The CEO embarked on a program with the staff, in which they were challenged to ‘bring their heart to work’ and practice heartfelt empathy with their patients. The CEO was active in his approach, walking the floor and helping his management team and staff work through how they could relate differently to patients. He was living the change he was asking of others.

The reward was increased staff satisfaction and simple public praise, which is Management 101 and remains a highly effective tool.

In 90 days the hospital went from the bottom of the ladder to the top.

The key takeout from this story is that even if your organization follows a proven path to success, it won’t work until the leadership team decides to change the culture and then lives and breathes that change.

Blue Road’s rule Number 2 of digital innovation says “be the change you want” and until that happens nothing changes.

So what is the 90-day recipe?

Days 1-20

Define where you need to innovate

There is a lot of focus in the innovation game about start-ups and incubators, but companies that innovate need to find a way to innovate from the core and work outwards.

It’s going to be very difficult for major organisations (such as the big four banks) to really make a dent in the potential financial disruption stakes just with a few start-ups.  Most companies are going to need to find a way to innovate from their core products and services in a more holistic manner, using internal staff and resources.

The first task is to decide on your innovation buckets. There are two generic buckets: you can either reach new customers, or improve internal operations and do more with what you have.

So spend the first 20 days doing focused research on where the business benefits really are and what projects might fit into these buckets.  It’s not about the detail at this point, it’s just about deciding what might be possible.

At the end of this phase you will have worked out the most efficient and effective way to domore with what you have, or to look for new opportunities.

Days 20-40

Focus on a few strategic areas

This is the time to gather a small team of executives who are focused on market research around the ideas in your buckets. Talk to customers and staff and be really pragmatic about what will and won’t work.

When this is done, call a meeting of senior executives and present the ideas that deliver either:

  • something that many potential customers need to do that no one is addressing very well, or
  • a technology that will enable customers to do that job much more easily, cheaply, or conveniently.

These can be presented in context of broader changes to the economic, regulatory, or social landscape.  There may be some special capability of your company that competitors can’t easily copy and which will give you an advantage in seizing this opportunity.

Days 40-70

Form a small team to focus on the innovations:

Identify a small team to fast track these opportunities. You need to separate this team from the everyday work of your organization to give them the opportunity to be fully focused. This work is intense and not possible within the constraints of the normal cycle of work and meetings.

Finally, this work should also focus on learning by doing. The idea is to be able to test at least some of the initiatives as quickly as possible.

Days 70-90

Create a mechanism to manage the projects.

Separate a group of senior leaders who will have autonomy around starting, stopping or re-directing these initiatives. Don’t replicate the corporate structure. These people need freedom from the regular corporate planning mindset.

This group will also need to be involved in working out ways of weaving these initiatives into business as usual work, which is often a complex task.

Once this is done, rinse and repeat!

At the end of 90 days, you should have:

  • established your broad innovation buckets,
  • identified your strategic opportunity areas,
  • assembled a team that has started on its first project, and
  • created the shepherding mechanism to speed the team on its way.

Once you have the system in place and are starting to see signs that specific projects can deliver in the short or longer term, it’s time to move on to the next innovation cycle.