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CONFERENCE KEYNOTES

24 Insights from The 2019 Innovation Culture & Metrics Summit

“Innovation arises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created.”

− Margaret J. “Meg” Wheatley, author and management consultant

Inclusive, Engaged, Data-Driven Innovation 

What are the orthodoxies of innovation and how does following them propel or stymie a sense of revival at an organization? Is innovation only for small, agile firms? While there are tried and true methods that promote innovation, the paths to get there are many for organizations of any size and age. And metrics can show how it all pays off with solid business results.

When 98 practitioners and experts met to discuss innovation culture and metrics, we took notes. Here are the highlights:

What is innovation? Innovation creates value for organizations and leads to the formation of new or largely improved products or services, production or operating processes, ways of attracting customers by enhancing their experience, and organizational practices, work design, human capital competency, or use of resources.

  1. The six signposts of innovation are: 
  • Research and development, using the latest science, engineering, or applied science;
  • Digitization, employing a host of services and technologies, such as mobile, cloud, artificial intelligence, social media, cognitive computing, and enterprise platforms;
  • External innovation ecosystems, including all outside factors or parties that encourage an organization to innovate either positively or negatively;
  • Environmental and social sustainability, involving measures that lead to growth plans that latch onto opportunities and manage risks connected to the organization’s environmental and social impacts;
  • Internal innovation culture, relating to leadership values, practices, tools, and others that impact an organization’s innovation potential; and
  • Brand and customer experience, driving and building through the use of products and services.

What if you have no innovation strategy? There’s no shame in that, but do get started now. Here’s how: 

  1. Create space for innovation by forming an innovation culture unit, led by a chief technology officer (CTO), in which you discuss the future, spearhead cultural initiatives such as events that tout areas of improvement and opportunity, bring in partners, and experiment with new technologies outside your core products. 
  2. Enlist executive sponsorship. Senior management needs to show that they support doing things differently, especially if and when you get pushback from departments resistant to change.
  3. Form an innovation team that is diverse in background, thought, and experiences and school them about the business and what it’s up against in the marketplace and internally. 
  4. Create a culture of empowerment and celebrate individuals who take the initiative to try new things.
  5. Make it fun. Employees need to enjoy innovating, so as an innovation-team leader, find ways to engage them more fully. One company created a “red sneaker club” for those employees working on innovation projects.
  6. Strive for employee buy-in and give employees access to data to make smart innovative decisions. Once innovation team members provide the ignition, it is the employees who drive the car in a company’s revival.
  7. Include a know-it-all in the innovation unit. That’s an employee who knows who does what, why, and when, and how all the business units fit together. She or he is also someone who supports trying out new products and services and ways of tackling projects.
  8. Connect the innovation unit to other business units through such events as hackathons, which build relationships and identify shared goals.
  9. Supply nontechnical teams with the tools, resources, and access to the technology that they need to create transformation independently. 
  10. Ensure that innovation is directly related to business goals to drive consensus and maintain focus. 
  11. Engage customers by positioning your organization as a thought leader. This practice will provide a return on investment in the early days, while new products are being set up.

What is innovation culture? Whether you work for a Fortune 500 company or a tech start-up, fresh ideas take hold within organizations that promote a culture of innovation. In such a culture, innovation comes from anyone who works there, not just from senior management or so-called innovation professionals. 

  1. Innovation succeeds when it has structure, uses common language, and checking tools for senior managers and learning tools for junior ones, and shows both its tangibles and intangibles.  
  2. Innovation demands rigorous, explicit, detailed problem definition—ideally resulting from contributions across the company—often leading to much more effective and creative solutions than those provided to less well-defined problems.

Innovation leaders come in all stripes.

  1. The most important responsibility of a chief CTO isn't technology. It's culture. The CTO’s goal is to create an ecosystem for innovation that carries the business forward.
  2. Such innovation leaders must drive conversations, make sure the organization measures what matters the most, and receive the appropriate tools of authority.
  3. Many innovation practitioners get tripped up when they rely on bad measurement and compensate by firing solid innovation practitioners rather than correcting the method of gathering metrics.
  4. Leaders in innovation can also emerge from the ranks, if the organization empowers employees to come forward with fresh ideas.
  5. Learning to lead effective conversations is a part of the maturation process of innovation as a professional discipline.

Metrics are key. You can only improve what you can measure, which is why organizations that measure do better than those that don’t. 

  1. Those organizations:
  • Are always striving to find more effective ways to measure; 
  • Select metrics focused on the company’s innovation needs and goals; 
  • Choose a few key metrics that most encourage desired behaviors; 
  • Pick metrics germane to all parts of the organization that contribute to innovation;
  • Shun expectations of perfection and are nimble enough to adjust along the way to what works the best;
  • Include metrics to reflect a multidimensional, cross-functional view and avoid counter-productive actions; and
  • Use metrics to drive accountability.

Innovation, biases, and inclusion. Biases and lack of inclusion can get in the way of creating something new. However, they can be lessened or overcome when dealt with head-on.

  1. Talking about biases won’t make them go away. While it’s a start to hash out biases, companies and individuals must examine the source of bias and work to ensure that bias doesn’t block innovation.
  2. Forward-thinking companies hire employees who are representative of their intended audience or customers.
  3. Diversity can take many forms. Case in point: Hiring only from a select cohort, such as graduates of Ivy League schools. The graduates may come from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, but they have likely been trained to think in the same way. Companies therefore run the risk of missing out on diversity of thought, problem-solving, and innovative product development when they hire mainly from a particular group.
  4. To stay sharp, disrupt your innovation team. Here are seven ways:  
  • Agree on the value your company offers customers;
  • Use your own service or product and then assess how “transformative” it has been for you;
  • Examine who is involved in your process and then join forces with an entity that’s counterintuitive to that process;
  • Aim for growth, tenfold growth;
  • Consider the trends not related to your business and adapt and apply one of them today;
  • Get creative about where you look for new partnerships. Search outside your go-to circle of experts; and
  • Know that building an innovation function, partnerships included, needs to be iterative because it can take longer than you might anticipate.

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