According to a recent study by McKinsey, 84% of executives believe innovation is important to their company’s growth strategy – yet a staggering 94% are dissatisfied with their own innovation performance. Although it is well-known that innovative companies outperform over time (think Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft), some of the most popular corporate innovation strategies employed by global leaders are often met with bureaucratic hurdles, bloated budgets, lack of focus, and failure.
As an external design partner frequently tasked with driving innovation at a product level, Milkinside has developed a number of strategies and processes based on their collective experience across industries. When properly applied, these tactics can help creative teams overcome the common challenges to innovation and foster a culture of imagination from the bottom up.
Make Room for Visionaries
Innovation initiatives typically fail for a number of reasons, including a workplace culture of risk avoidance, the pressure of short-term quarterly results, and lack of sponsorship from top leadership. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that many projects are doomed by constraints before they have even left the ideation stage.
For true innovation to take place, the start of a project must not be constricted by strategy and analysis. Instead, creative talent must be allowed to dream big, to “play” at work, and to feel that anything is possible. There will be a time and place to transform ideas into an operational plan, but in the initial stages, freedom is paramount.
Balance the Rational Brain and the Creative Brain
For Milkinside, the strategy and user experience (UX) components of product design serve a critical role in the development process. However, the team explains that UX should not directly influence the very first stages of creative ideation and visual design exploration. To do so can be stifling for everyone, resulting in a linear design process that limits freedom of thought and expression.
One alternative method that has proven successful is to allow the UX discovery and early wireframing processes to run in parallel with creative visual exploration. This approach avoids setting hard and fast rules at this early stage, and allows a subset of the working team to dream unbounded – something that is very difficult for the brain to do if confronted with strict guidelines at the onset of a project.
There is a time for unification of UX and visual design, of course, but it does not need to come on the first day of the project.
Creativity must be fostered not only at the project level but as a product of a workplace environment that encourages freedom of thought and the pursuit of new ideas. Although leadership often sets the tone for workplace culture and is responsible for corporate innovation, there are ways for every person within an organization to make an impact.
When product teams meet to communicate on new projects, it is important for everyone to have a say, and for leadership to encourage diverse perspectives. When every person has a place at the table, and there is room for spirited debate without hierarchy, everyone can feel inspired and empowered to take creative risks.
Introduce Outside Perspectives
The paradox of success in the consumer product space is that it is incredibly difficult for a market-leading incumbent to remain innovative over time. Supporting a successful suite of products requires operational excellence, maximum efficiency, and flawless execution. These traits are very often at odds with the ones necessary to encourage risk-taking and innovation.
Inviting new perspectives, both within and outside of the organization, can help challenge the status quo and enhance the likelihood of building ‘something new.’ Cross-pollinating your teams with internal and external participants ensures a variety of influences and, critically, invites viewpoints from other industries. At Milkinside, you might find a team working on a mobile phone OS drawing inspiration from an auto manufacturer, or a team building a financial services app referencing a feature from a fitness tracker. This is only made possible by having exposure to other industries and, consequently, a broad set of reference material that stimulates analogical thinking.
Innovation and creativity are most often a reflection of company culture, and those at the top own this responsibility. But that doesn’t preclude product teams from acting as change agents within the organization, and infusing a sense of imagination and passion that can flow throughout the company. It is the freedom to dream bigger that can ultimately change a company, an industry and the world at large.
To learn more about Milkinside’s commitment to innovation, please visit www.milkinside.com.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.