Top 5 Innovation Training Program Pitfalls

06/02/2016 03:06 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Launching an innovation program can be daunting, but the ROI on innovation dwarfs other skillsets.

More and more organizations are going beyond simply including 'innovation' in the mission statement. Modern enterprises are training their people in innovation and establishing deliverables for it. The word 'innovation' is showing up in more and more department names and job titles. The time to learn the skills to innovative is now.

We have worked with fortune 500s across industries and geographies. Here are the top 5 pitfalls we've come across.


1) Better Brainstorming and Other Ways to Waste Time

The timeless icon of innovation is the light bulb, and it has been misunderstood from the start. Edison's firm perspired through thousands of prototypes before arriving at a functional solution. Despite this, the light bulb parades around as false icon, purporting the eureka moment as seminal to innovation.

The idea is seldom the roadblock stopping organizations from being innovative. That's not to say that good idea generation isn't a critical part of the process. It is, but more often than not organizations and their people have a surplus of good ideas on how they might improve products, processes and policies.

Innovation is a process of which brainstorming is only a small part. Typically things like 'socializing ideas to build momentum for change' and 'doing experiments to generate learnings' are the key skills for innovation at large organizations.

2) Innovate,.. then I'll fire you!

Today, organizations routinely ask their people for innovation, and then prevent it from happening. This happens for a variety of reasons across different parts of the organization. What is relevant to consider for learning programs is to make sure participants are learning techniques that are applicable in their roles, and that they know how and when to use them. If an employee has radical innovation as a deliverable for their job, then it makes sense to teach advanced creative thinking techniques. If not, then you are simply getting their hopes up, or setting them up to scare the heck out of their boss with their next bold and wild idea.

Carefully matching participants to skills is paramount to launching a successful innovation learning program.

3) Training in Captivity

Most training goes on in a controlled, safe environment. That's good sometimes, but ultimately, for innovation, you want to move toward training in the wild. Using a simulation is a good middle ground as well.

The most successful innovation training programs we've conducted have involved participants forming teams, generating real ideas for innovation projects, pitching to their senior leaders, gathering feedback and refining. Often times, the best teams are even rewarded with seed funding to pursue their projects.

It's reasonable to ask if this should even be called training. The truth is, we've never seen individuals and teams pick up the skills so quickly, and internalize them so well. Also, actually doing innovation creates a shift in attitude that is much more powerful than learning any new skill or technique.

4) Copy Pasting

20% time is not a panacea. What works for Google, in general, will likely be different than what works for your organization. Consultants (we concede) would love to convince you that there is a model of the ideal innovative organization, and that if you put in the work (and money) to change your culture to fit the model, then you'll be successful.

You are already successful. Innovation is happening in your organization today (or is at least being attempted), in small and big ways. The idea is to find out where, by whom, why and how, and with that insight at hand, build the appropriate interventions and changes step by step.

For the learning organization, the important bit is to find out the skills, attitudes and behaviors of successful innovators at your organization, and teach those in your innovation courses.

5) Are we innovative yet?

It would be wonderful if there were a yardstick with which we could measure progress toward innovation capability. It isn't usually a practical option. Progress for innovation isn't necessarily linear, or exponential, or chartable at all. Instead of measuring progress for innovation projects, you can measure confidence. Take the time to do experiments to gain information that helps you judge whether or not an innovation is likely to succeed. Also, it is very valuable to measure the cost/risk side. In this way, your decisions to move forward at various points are made by looking at costs, risks and confidence and are held in comparison to other innovation projects.

For learning programs the idea is to build in filters. Give basic training to a large population, and then narrow it down. Give advanced training next. Whittle down again. Finally, put the large investments into individuals that prove innovation capability. In this way you are filtering out costs and risks along the way. No one can tell you with certainty that something new will succeed. In the end innovation takes courage.

Going Forward!

Costa here. It's been an adventure crafting training programs over the last five years for some of the biggest brands in the US. We've learned a lot, and I hope the insights shared here are useful to you. I wish you the best of luck in your innovation journey!

Costa writes and speaks on innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. For more: InnovationBound.com/Costa