Driving innovation within an IT company
Today this is more or less the description of any IT company which aspires to an attractive modern image.
INNOVATION is a buzzword, which determines whether the company is perceived as a "valuable player" or "common service provider".
What is innovation inside the organization really about? Why is it so desirable? How does it benefit a company? What obstacles does it face and how to fuel it to get the most out of it?
Simply put - innovation is action resulting in new or improved products, technological processes or organizational systems. In other words - it is something either “new” or “improved". Something that thanks to the effort of anyone on board will provide a fresh perspective and take the company, product or service to new heights.
The source of the innovative idea is people. So far, so good.
Successfully implemented innovation will result in two profoundly positive outcomes for any IT company:
• stable and significant competitive advantage on the market,
• strong motivation of the team.
Both aspects cannot be underestimated, especially in terms of such a dynamically changing industry as IT. Potential benefits can be huge. However… the chances of enjoying them in practice are rather slim. Why is that?
There is a number of very strong factors inhibiting the "innovative success" within the organization itself. Let’s take a look at them, to gain better awareness about the common traps standing in the way.
Statistics. About 90% of new ideas (sources of innovation), despite promising forecasts, prove to be a failure in the long term. These are the harsh facts. The risk therefore is huge, and the costs may be significant as well. The question the organization has to ask itself is: are we ready for this?
Internal pressure of the organization. Incubating innovation happens at entirely your own cost (apart from possible subsidies) and outside the mainstream of commercial projects. From their point of view, especially those burdened with the greatest pressure of time, cost, etc., work on innovative projects is simply a waste of resources. This work has no guarantee of return on investment in the face of tangible and urgent current needs. "Forget the playground and get down to business" - innovative ambitions are often forced to give way to other priorities. Sometimes for an extensive period of time, sometimes forever.
Environment. In order for a seed to grow, it needs to be sown (investment), have appropriate conditions (environment) and be watered (investment again). In other words, many companies only declare their "innovation friendliness", encouraging their employees to be creative, promising profits, but failing to provide adequate resources and conditions (no investment). Such attitude is bound to fail from the beginning. Such companies perceive the lack of investment as savings and reducing unnecessary risks. Thus, unfortunately, the chances for success (which are slight anyway) also diminish to zero. The message the employees receive is: “We urge you, do something really cool and valuable, perhaps we’ll give it a go. But maybe work on it after hours or in your spare time”. Totally absurd!
Motivation. Only a fraction of innovative projects will survive the first, very uncertain period of activity and be able to take a stable direction and grow. Sooner or later, however, internal energy will start to wane, uncertainty about the purpose of your work will creep in, they will start to question the need for further effort. This is a very crucial moment in which the role of the organization turns out to be fundamental. At this point, the company may go two ways - it will either add “motivation fuel” to the innovation-vehicle or remain passive, expecting to be presented with the final result. It is important not to let that moment pass, although it can be difficult.
Consequence. It may happen that the company will take the problem very seriously, allocate resources, create nurturing conditions… only to take them away if faced with more important goals. Such a scenario is very powerful "killer" – “the spirit of innovation” might disappear in this company for many years to come.
Supervision and tendency for central management. The most important attribute of any innovative project, is independence, freedom and enthusiasm of its participants. Companies are often tempted to integrate their internal needs with the innovation stream and take control of it. Top-down delegation of topics, goals, teams or interfering in their activities in any way. The result is always the same - killing the idea of innovation in order to achieve the company's goals. Yet another dead end.
Driving innovation within the company - how to do it then? How to avoid hazards, mistakes and give ourselves a chance for success? First of all, the company as a whole must deeply understand what innovation is all about.
It must agree and accept that:
• innovation is independent,
• can be developed only by people who are willing to take part and not forced to do so,
• its success is dubious,
• the only certain result of its operation is... the costs.
It has to come up with and take the burden of creating a kind of “internal incubator of innovation” that will ensure:
• isolation and protection against the pressure of mainstream commercial activity,
• clear conditions and transparent operating environment,
• an injection of motivation at the appropriate stage,
• resistance to influence and pressure from outside.
How to effectively ensure so many factors? How to create such an “incubator”? – that’s another story.
For now, let’s start with the basics and meet the most common mistakes to avoid. Then we’ll have a chance to honestly say: “We are innovative. We strongly support innovation in our company”.