Innovation is clearly one of the hot topics for today's CEOs and industry leaders. The rationale is clear and sensible. Indeed, a number of sectors such as retail and publishing have already discovered the tough realities of a changing market.
Corporate directives can sometimes send mixed messages. Be innovative! Take risks! Cut costs! However, don't touch core services, and if you stuff up you're dead! Textbook advice on innovation is an excellent starting point, but it can only be a starting point. Each enterprise must confront the need for innovation within the context of its own business realities.
Future plans must involve more creativity, but this must be moderated by a cash-poor environment. The IT function is caught between the need to deal with wafer thin budgets, and the need to deliver greater innovation. Gone are any ideas of big R&D budgets. This is the time for the shoestring innovator.
Idea generation is an important foundation, but don't overdo it
Innovation cannot survive without a constant flow of ideas. These ideas must cast a critical eye over accepted business practice. Ideation theory provides a wealth of practical information about idea generation and assessment, and is a fast maturing as a powerful management tool.
Many emerging methods of idea generation are delivering promising results. These include corporate blogs, the posting of online challenges, and the creation of competitions to engage the creativity of young talent. The small business sector is also fast emerging as a source of skills to fill ideas gap. Small business has the advantage that it can react quickly to changing circumstances, while still giving enterprise managers a level of comfort by engaging through traditional contractual arrangements.
Some enterprises continue to dismiss internal social networks as a security risk and as a distraction from doing "real work". However a growing number of enterprises are finding that internal social networks are an excellent tool for unlocking the creative capacity of their own staff. This is even happening in more risk averse sectors such as government. Early this year, Ovum published a case study that looked at the use of social networking in the South Australian Department of Premier and Cabinet. In this case study, internal social networking was found to be an excellent method for opening discussion across corporate stovepipes and for testing ideas.
However in the rush to generate ideas, expectations can be raised to a level that is beyond the delivery capacity of the enterprise. The big challenge for the shoestring innovator is to manage expectations and keep the ideas generation process focused on priority issues for the enterprise. Ideas generation is not so much about creating a flood of ideas, but about creating a flow of useful ideas.
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