When structuring innovation: focus on business or mindset?

Accelerating internal innovation involves a combination of building capabilities and mindsets as well as developing tangible outputs in the process.

So, when organizations seek to implement and scale structured innovation programs that aim to address both learning and outputs, the question often arises: how do we ensure high-quality outputs (focus on business: e.g. internal startups turning into successful new services) while giving teams the freedom to learn and fail in the process (focus on mindset)? Or, in other words – how much can we standardize (control) and how much should we allow flexibility? How do we ensure that our Innovation program approach is serving our teams as well as organizational goals? 

  1. The first thing to agree on is that “One Size does not and will not fit all” – ever. There’s no “Holy Grail” of Innovation – every organization needs to define its own drivers for innovation (the Innovation Matrix can give an help with that). In fact, Innovation potential can be unlocked in many different ways in various teams and challenges. 
  2. Then, it is key to identify and agree upon a common language – clarify the methodology, define the expectations of deliverables and provide clear instructions on how to internally communicate learnings and outputs. The tricky part is choosing the degree of standardization – what is expected as the minimum steps that need to be completed in a certain way to avoid low-quality delivery? 
  3. Lastly, choosing the degree of flexibility – you want to let teams add their own creativity to the given structure without feeling lost – this is where you observe a team’s unique approach and is often where the real magic of innovation happens.

The difficulty here for innovation managers is giving a degree of freedom to their teams when it comes to outcomes. The benefit is that you can tweak and update your own approach based on your learnings from observing the teams. After all, it’s not enough to expect your teams to build, measure and learn, you can and should do this too. 


I’m Tarryn Lewis, Innovation Consultant @ Board of Innovation. Spreading innovation culture is in our DNA – if you liked the read, contribute to our mission by sharing this article.

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