As I’ve mentioned previously, the concept of really successfully integrating “innovation” into a business is easier said than done. Often innovation is merely used as a buzzword to drop when talking about high-level concepts and ideas. However, innovation is a very real strategy – one that takes deliberate planning, prioritization and resources. More than just a talking point in leadership meetings, innovation must be a part of a structured approach to achieving company strategy.
Recognizing the need for a structured approach for innovation and understanding how to execute that are two very different things. We’ve created an innovation process which begins with what we call our “Four in Four” strategy. We mapped out four major business initiatives or changes that we believed should take place over the course of the next four years to drive our business forward. We update this plan regularly, and it serves as a road map for where we need to be focusing our efforts. It is simply a way of narrowing down and fitting our innovation process within the broader strategic plan for the company.
Implementing the 4 in 4
Again, the concept of “Four in Four” sounds reasonable in theory but implementing this kind of dedicated approach requires the commitment and investment of various stakeholders. It involves a process that includes a dedicated group of individuals who are identified as “forward-thinkers” –employees who are able to envision the future of the business over the next five to ten years.
Once this group is determined, they are presented with around thirty prompts regarding potential scenarios and problems over that time frame. These prompts are designed to make the conversation more guided and constrained than a free-form brainstorming session. This also allows to streamline ideas to certain areas of focus for the group to consider.
Those prompts are then discussed, and ideas are created in the context of our Four in Four strategy. The team is tasked with exploring the trends and potential opportunities in our industry and market, and ultimately locate areas that are particularly ripe for innovation. The result yields various promising opportunities, each ranging in cost, purpose and result. As a team we are then able to evaluate these against one another, build a business case for each, and present the cases to the senior leadership of the company for budget approval.
It’s this process that has helped us innovate and set ourselves apart in the pole disposal process. When you create a dedicated process and you have the commitment of stakeholders to support the exploration and investment in these strategies, there isn’t an industry that won’t benefit from making innovation a priority.