Innovation != technology

Businesses are increasingly looking to technology to solve a requirement to innovate. Hack days are now the domain of corporations looking to generate ideas and creativity quickly. But for businesses to really embrace innovation cultural change is far more important than technology.

Offer the freedom to play

Within corporations fostering a creative environment can be highly challenging. Typically corporations have processes around everything from installing software to how to enter a building. Creativity cannot flourish when overly constrained by process and regulation. If an employee thinks that an idea will never see the light of day why would they even express it?

For innovation to be given a fighting chance a baseline is that employees are offered the freedom to express themselves, experiment and play. With the concept of experimentation a business should accept the idea that it is ok to fail. Clearly it is not acceptable for innovation to permanently fail but the word experimentation means that it should be expected that not everything will succeed.

Ideas come from anywhere

Too often in corporations a top down culture prevails around innovation. The idea that a senior management layer somehow directs innovation will seldom work. More likely to succeed is the idea that anyone can innovate and that each person within a business will bring something different. If a culture exists where individuals can express themselves freely innovation can flourish. For the senior management layer this means learning to let go of the reins if only in specific areas.

Remove barriers to creativity

As individuals hit barriers their propensity to innovate reduces proportionally. Within the realm of software the time to first commit for a developer is crucial. If someone has an idea they want to start working on it straight away. Developers do not want to go through a lengthy process for installing software or need to fill out forms to get access to a database. The ability to share ideas quickly and the time to get an idea in front of a colleague is also very important. How can innovation happen if it takes two weeks to provision a server to allow a web page to be shared?

For a developer the ability to code and share code instantly has been solved by being able to use PaaS products like Heroku. A developer can instantly push code and get a URL to share with someone else. Tools like Github and npm developers instantly.

For a corporation there may be security considerations but within a corporate firewall there should be no reason that experimentation cannot occur.

Conclusion

Innovation and creativity are not something that you can turn on and off in an organisation. If you really want to embrace creativity the culture and organisation of a business must be carefully considered. An innovative business will be a place where people can freely express themselves and are encouraged to do so. It should remove as many barriers as possible and make it trivial to share ideas. It should accept that experimentation can mean failure and that a top-down approach rarely succeeds. Then and only then real innovation can happen.

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