Fostering Innovation for Success

Innovation, according to management guru Peter Drucker, is the one thing every business needs to succeed. It is the key ingredient that allows companies to stay relevant by continually creating new products and services.

In short, innovation is the engine that drives corporate growth.

There is no silver bullet or step-by-step manual when it comes to creating an innovative organization. Innovation is less about building a better mousetrap than it is about establishing a culture that encourages individuals to think creatively and allows the organization to capture and act on the best ideas.

Managing and maintaining innovation is never easy. Here are seven of the ways we keep innovation alive at Autobytel:

Foster a culture that supports and rewards innovation. Unwavering support from top management is essential for innovation to flourish. There must be key individuals within the organization who are able to embrace change and are absolutely committed to nurturing the kind of behavior that sparks innovation.

This may mean encouraging risk-taking and actively promoting the pursuit of new ideas. Or, it may simply mean allowing time for employees to sit back and reflect. After all, innovation flows from people.

Keep innovation teams small and focused. Too many people on a team strains communications and slows down the innovation process. Innovation entails a certain amount of chaos. This sometimes means giving teams the permission to break old rules in order to achieve greatness.

It is easier to manage the creative process, and sharpen the focus, with a smaller group of people. Moreover, smaller teams, by their nature, are more cohesive. There is often less friction and members tend to share a common passion to succeed.

Staff your teams with the truly innovative who are committed and passionate about new ideas. By contrast, use more process-oriented staff in other groups and bring them in once initial success is ready to be capitalized on.

Not everyone is a risk-taker. Many managers are risk averse people who pride themselves on making their numbers rather than building new businesses. These people are often very good employees, but they are not the team members you are looking for. You want innovative thinkers who are not afraid of taking bold action.

Limit the number of new initiatives. Chasing too many new ideas simultaneously can overwhelm teams and bog down progress.

A lack of focus can also cause some executives to complain about projects that are allowed to proceed without sufficient validation. This negativity can also lead to promising projects getting killed too early.

Embrace failure as part of the process. Innovation is a high risk, high reward process. If you are truly innovating, you will fail with some frequency.

Learn from each failure but don’t allow the initial lack of success to derail the overall process. This also gets back to the issue of culture. A culture that encourages experimentation and respects innovation understands that mistakes are a small price to pay for future success.

Maintain the momentum. Innovation can wax and wane. It is critical to have a process in place that constantly evaluates what is going right, and what is going wrong.

In an ever-changing market, what works today won’t necessarily be what works tomorrow. Just as you must reinvent product lines, you must constantly take a fresh approach to the very act of innovation.

John Petrone is CTO of Autobytel, an Internet automotive marketing services, and dealership customer management and CRM solutions company.