Innovation: Turning Ideas into Action

I was fortunate to attend the @ACOSVO Annual Conference last week (Are we Human or are We Leader?) and, as ever, was inspired by the conversations and connections made. The third sector is filled with creative, resourceful people dedicated to providing the best service for the people we work for. Good ideas were plentiful! However, for us all translating this creativity and intent into a sustainable model is challenging.

There is evidence that being able to adapt and respond to challenges and opportunities can help organisations grow and flourish. For us, that means delivering sustainable outcomes and impact for those we work with and for.

So when does a “good idea” become an “innovation”?

There are many definitions of innovation. My personal favourite is one of the simplest: Innovation is the introduction of a good idea… Underpinning this is the understanding that as important as idea creation and creativity are, they require action before any value can be generated from them.

But how do we do this? How do we balance the development of new ideas versus current priorities and operational necessities? How do we, as leaders, engage and motivate our staff to innovate and change and develop services for the future?

Our work at The Lens supporting innovation and intrapreneurship has highlighted the important role that leadership plays in creating the conditions in which innovation can flourish. Indeed, a research paper from the consulting group McKinsey in 2007 concluded that leadership is the best predictor of innovation performance.

Here are 6 suggested actions you can take as a leader which will help turn good ideas into an innovation:

· Define the kind of innovation you are seeking. Clarity here can help to focus effort on the problem(s) to be solved. NB Innovation should be true to the mission of your organisation but can sometimes be disruptive to short-term objectives.

· Be a champion for new ideas — encourage them to come forward.

· Enable — ideas in their infancy are fizzy and bright but can quickly lose their sparkle! Help coach the development of the ideas — what value does the idea bring, to whom and how can this be maximised? Take the time to listen for potential. A useful tool to build on ideas is to start with Yes AND rather than NO Because.

· Help — what other help, insight or experience will help shape the idea? How can we test our assumptions quickly and simply? Remember that this insight does not need to come from you — rather how can you connect knowledge across organisation and beyond.

· Make it happen! Be aware of barriers in your organisation to innovation flourishing. What can you do to ensure there is the space to think, challenge, experiment and learn?

· Be prepared to stop — remember there is a big difference between a good idea and the right idea. Maybe the time isn’t right, maybe on closer testing the idea isn’t as strong — that’s OK.

Any one of these suggestions will be helpful, but if you can take them together they will help you prioritise ideas, decide which to work on and who should be involved.

Jane is a Developer with The Lens. She can be reached at jane.whitworth@lensperspectives.org.uk or via twitter @TheLensCP

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