It’s in our nature to support a cause that’s bigger than ourselves—we’re social creatures after all, so we’re at our best when we work together towards a common goal. However, out of left field came the global health pandemic, and collaboration has since taken a major hit at a time when creative ideas and solutions are needed most. That’s because the free-flow of information and exchange of ideas between internal and external stakeholders are the lifeblood of an innovative organization, and now more than ever is the time to drive virtual innovation campaigns that support company wide innovation initiatives around emerging market trends and new technologies such as AI, automation and digital transformation.

Build It and They Will Come

In the 1989 film Field of Dreams, Iowa corn farmer Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, hears a voice telling him “If you build it, they will come,” which Ray interprets as an instruction to build a baseball diamond in his fields. After building it, the spirits of baseball players emerge from the cornfields to play ball. Coincidentally, in our field of reality, Major League Baseball is perhaps the only major sports league to resume operations this summer as it prepares to throw its first pitch in July. Indeed, America’s favorite pastime may become America’s only pastime… with not a single soul to be found in the bleachers. And yet, that’s not stopping the league or its fans. Even if it’s held exclusively online, baseball is likely to bring an entire nation together, because that’s what sports do and what human nature demands. Innovation, for all intents and purposes, plays a similar function in the corporate setting because it engages your workforce in the same way sports do, as employees are brought together to participate in something bigger than themselves.

Home Field Advantage

Innovation is not all that different to a team sport. In the same way that fans support their team by wearing their colors and cheering them on, your employees support your company by continuously voicing their ideas and collaborating to develop the best ones. There’s a reason why a baseball team playing in its home stadium has ‘home field advantage’. Giving your employees a stake in the game, having them take part in the action and witnessing in real-time the fruits of their labor is rewarding and empowering for all parties involved in the innovation and creative problem-solving lifecycle. Leadership is critical for innovation to be a home run hit however. Innovation advocates are your MVPs because they’re the Ray Kinsellas of your organization’s success stories, without whom an innovation program would never make it to first base. You can’t expect your employees to root for your company’s success or have a stake in your company’s future if they’re not guided and engaged. That’s why it’s crucial for company leaders, specifically the Chief Innovation Officer, to step up to the plate and build a culture that is conducive to innovation.

Hey, Batter Batter

Innovation is not about quantity, but rather quality. Similarly, batting average (used to measure a hitter’s success at the plate) is not about hitting the ball per se, but rather hitting the ball safely, so that batters can advance from first, second and third base to reach the home plate. Likewise, innovation is about advancing the development of specific applications across five distinct innovation activities, from targeting, ideation, incubation and business planning to commercialization. What is then needed is a  sustainable approach to innovation management that is embedded into the company’s process framework. Aligning company wide innovation processes, activities, roles and objectives with corporate strategy means your organization is much more likely to focus its efforts on repeatedly identifying and solving problems that truly matter. This will result in a greater batting average among employees and ultimately have them hitting home run solutions on a regular basis. Some business challenges are a little more complex than others however, and therefore require collaboration with expert problem solvers. These are your heavy hitters who have a favorable batting average and are capable of knocking the ball deep into the outfield whenever you’re hit with a curveball. If your organization lacks these skilled players, then consider a shuffle in the dugout.

Shuffle in the Dugout

Innovation is not immune to failure. Striking out is part of baseball just as it is of innovation. There’s a lot of hit-and-miss, but that doesn’t make the World Series any less attainable. If you find your innovation team is getting hit with too many curveballs though, then a shuffle in the dugout might be in order. After all, a team consisting exclusively of hitters will lose every time against a diverse team of pitchers, catchers and shortstops. Similarly, an organization that diversifies its stakeholder ecosystem and extends its crowdsourcing efforts beyond its immediate workforce is much more likely to improve company wide ideation, idea development and decision making, and possibly introduce net-new services that extend its core market value as a result. Well-planned innovation activities increase teamwork and collaboration among an organization’s local and global communities of employees, customers, suppliers, strategic partners and expert solvers. Leveraging intellectual capital on this scale and combining it with automated data analysis to surface relevant information for your online innovation campaigns will knock your innovation program out of the park; all you need to do is build it, and they will come.