By Salim Hemdani

Innovation is the buzz word in today's marketplace. Everyone wants to innovate and ideate on new concepts or incremental ones. Pressure from your boss (and your peers) to establish and implement innovative and elegant solutions for your team and for your clients is pushing the sanity level to its maximum! How do you address these challenges? I believe a simple framework can make it happen:

What is innovation?
As defined in most popular dictionaries, innovation is simply an act of introducing something new. The idea of innovation is perceived by consumers as something totally new, and something that they haven't seen, heard or thought-of. An innovation, like a combustion engine, can last for almost a century without any major modifications while an innovation like NetFlix online service is no longer considered a brilliant feat. Service sector innovations are short lived but nevertheless are more profit making and attention grabbing vehicles. You would disagree on my opinion only if you have never heard of YouTube, MySpace, or Face Book!

How do we get there?
One of the earliest ideologies of innovation was "Innovation cannot be forced, it just happens". An innovative idea not only comes by chance, but can also be invited into a carefully pampered and well-thought-out, healthy working environment. Companies can provide infrastructure, models, resources and frameworks for people to develop innovative ideas.

Provide Framework
Innovative ideas come to people who are innovation-aware. Awareness of popular thinking and day-to-day internet age innovations put seeds of creative mash-ups in technology savvy working forces that define innovative ideas within their business environments. Innovative companies provide employees with access to the outside world during working hours even though some might feel it is an improper use of company time. Google provides its employees certain time allocations each week designed to be spent on "research of choice" opportunities. Innovation breeds both motivation and constructive criticism: ideas of employees are listened to too, talked about and criticized to glean the best innovative idea possible.

Idea/Conception´┐Ż to Production Process
Numerous ideas go off everyday in your employee's brains. Many of these original ideas come back to them when they see someone else doing the exact same thing and creating a buzz-word in the marketplace. One of the biggest challenges for employers today is transferring these original ideas from their brains onto paper, email, whiteboards, or any other format that can be digitally saved and shared with larger audiences.

To facilitate an innovative environment, companies need process. Every company has its own process, but here is a simple one I recommend.

  • Create an "Innovation Groomers" team that is responsible for grooming innovative ides.
  • Formalize a process for sending ideas to a centralized email inbox.
  • Every week these emails are read anonymously in the Innovation Groomers forum. The Groomers' forum listens to each idea and constructively criticizes it.
  • At the end of every two weeks, the Groomers hand pick one idea that they can put to work.
  • After an idea is selected, employees are selected to work on making this idea a reality. This team is the called, "Innovation Builders".
  • Innovation Builders put Proof-of-Concept ideas together and provide feedback on the feasibility and ability of their company to execute the idea.
  • After every two weeks, the Innovation Builders (there will be numerous builder teams) provide input to the Groomers and other company executives.
  • You will come out with innovative ideas! But don't stop there! Keep the wheel going and keep building a pool of talented people who can take your business to the next level.

Providing the above framework can make innovation happen. If you are running a group or a company, I encourage you to follow the model and share the results.

About the Author
Salim Hemdani is a Technology Director in San Francisco, CA.

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