The “Big Rocks” of Innovation Management

Most organizations have a primitive system to collect and develop ideas and suggestions from their teams. Asking team members for their feedback is common sense since it encourages employee engagement. Your resources are the best source of ideas as they interact closely with the customers, partners, suppliers, systems, processes and structures you have put in place to be successful.  Some PPM, ALM, PLM and collaboration systems include basic idea collection capabilities as part of their offering.

Unfortunately this bottom-up approach is typical of organizations that have not truly embraced the realities of what it takes to build a successful sustainable innovation business model.

You are probably familiar with Stephen Covey the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. His presentation on the “Big Rocks” certainly applies to Innovation Management.

Taking this example, your innovation approach will include the following components:

  • Jar = Your collective knowledge and approach to innovation management
  • Big rocks = The main challenges and opportunities which align with your strategic objectives that you should focus your efforts on
  • Sand = These are the general ideas that your employees, suppliers and community would love to communicate, share and collaborate on

As many companies who deployed a purely bottom up focused idea collection process have discovered, this approach to innovation management inundates the management and executive team with hundreds if not thousands of suggestions that are too cumbersome to sift through and most do not directly relate to the company’s strategy and the key challenges and opportunities it should be focused on.

This image is a good representation of what a bottom-up random approach to idea management looks like:

If you just lead with ideas then you cannot make space for the key challenges and opportunities you want a functional area or the business as a whole to concentrate on. As you can see once the sand of ideas has set in there is no place to fit in the big rocks. Quickly process fatigue sets in since those submitting ideas do not receive feedback, see progress or action corresponding to their suggestions and the management team simply moves on to other things as it does not see any successful project, service or product launches that result from the effort.

A bottom-up driven approach may seem attractive at first as an organization may rush into collecting ideas, seek employee engagement and involve the user community.  But without the fundamentals in place the ROI and sustainability of the system makes the approach fail over time. Innovation becomes an operational practice that may deliver only some incremental innovation instead of a true driver for strategy realization.

Here is a great quote from Stephen Covey that makes the point:

If you take a strategically aligned approach to Innovation Management then your executive team is on board since the ideas being proposed, discussed and developed correspond to the main opportunities you should pursue and the true challenges you have decided to address.

This approach also increases innovation agility by making optimal use of the organization’s resources. Because you have carefully defined your focus areas, the idea selection, development and experimentation is carefully matched to what matters most. You can choose which areas to focus your resources and efforts on.

To be able to define your Big Rocks, you will first of all need to carefully address the following points:

  • A clear and concise definition of what innovation means to your organization
  • A culture which fosters innovation with your internal resources to ensure employee engagement and the selective involvement of external constituents including your customers, partners, suppliers as well as the community at large
  • A sustainable engine designed to ensure consistent and ongoing innovation by encapsulating the systems, processes and methods to drive results

Once you have the fundamentals in place you can define your Big Rocks by focusing the Innovation generation efforts and campaigns on your main challenges and opportunities. The Big Rocks approach to innovation has the advantage that the executive team sets the pace, the targets and the objectives – and provides the funding.

Keep in mind that there is science involved in carefully defining each challenge and deciding on who, what, when and where – all of which will significantly impact your results. This is where best in class innovation management systems and experts help – by guiding your organization’s efforts to help yield the best results.

This image represents what your focused innovation management approach will now look like:

As you can see if you start with your Big Rocks then the right ideas will fall into place.

A bottom-up approach can deliver value, but the transformational potential of innovation truly rests with a strategy driven approach. Starting with a clear understanding of your big rocks is the best method to launch an Innovation Management initiative to ensure alignment, improve the ability of your organization to deliver on its strategy, and achieve value quickly – don’t assume you have to start with a bucketful of sand!

Do you know what are your big rocks? Is your organization focusing its resources on pursuing the best opportunities and solving your real challenges?