Richard Branson’s A-B-C-D mantra - always be connecting the dots - goes to the core of every company he runs.
Despite sounding like a cliche, it’s a phrase that Steve Jobs also included in his commencement speech, where he stated: ‘You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.’
There’s no doubt that Branson and Jobs were two of this generation’s most successful innovators. But how do companies actually go about connecting the dots? Let’s look at four key aspects of any successful innovation initiative.
Make it consistent
When the concept of innovation was initially introduced, it was considered incompatible with consistency. As it’s developed, however, the consensus is that a degree of consistency - particularly between senior management’s words and actions - is an integral part of its success. Larger companies, in particular, must make sure that nothing is getting lost in translation when passing it on to middle management, and that the workforce remains inspired, but not lost.
Create realistic expectations
The best innovators have come to accept failure as a necessary evil on the road to producing something better. Despite this, every company should set the bar high in terms of the final result. Along the way, however, appropriate targets and timeframes should be set so that nobody gets demotivated.
Develop a structure
Innovation can be structured in many ways. And in our Innovation 101 series we addressed this issue directly. There are many things for companies to think about. The question as to whether innovation should be integrated or external continues to grate hard on business executives. The Godfather of innovation - Peter Drucker - believed innovation should be its own function, but it seems that many companies remain unconvinced. McKinsey, for example, reported that just 1/3 of companies have fully integrated innovation into their strategy. The divide, in some respects, is often determined by the company’s overall approach innovation. If it’s incremental, integrated is normally the way forward.
Whatever method a company decides on, there should be clarity, and as mentioned before, consistency across the structure.
Innovation needs resources to support it, and not just in traditional areas like R+D. Throughout the company both manpower and capital should be allocated to specific innovation initiatives so that managers know how much room they have to be creative, and what constitutes a realistic timeframe.