Make the case for Innovation #2: How to cultivate an Innovation mindset.

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We often get asked by client-partners and others within the Innovation community to help make the case for Innovation—within organizations large and small, for profit and non-profit, government and healthcare, and everything in between.

The question is this: How can you set up Innovation initiatives to ensure they succeed internally and go on to create value out in the world?

In this series, The Moment’s Innovation Designers share practical insights and examples from real business cases. We’ll also shed light on what arguments you can use to support key recommendations in setting up innovation projects at your organization.

Have an Innovation challenge you’d like to see answered? We’ve probably helped a client with a similar issue. Email us with your question and we might feature it in our next make the case for Innovation series article.



How to cultivate an Innovation mindset.

We often hear people say: “My organization isn’t innovative enough” or “what does it take to help my team become more innovative?” The answer, of course, is that there is no magic solution (sorry!). Like anything else in life, the best way to get better at something is by showing up and practicing.

That’s why it’s best to start cultivating an innovation mindset in a “learn by doing” setting. Learn, while you’re doing actual work.

Choose a project, with real outcomes and implications on the line, and start experimenting. If it’s not a real project, it won’t get the necessary time or budget. And if you keep approaching projects in the same way, nothing will change. So start with one project.

But what kind of project is best to test out a new, innovative approach? And how will this help increase an Innovative mindset? We asked two of our Innovation Designers, Julie Sommerfreund and Simon Mhanna:

Q: How can organizations cultivate an Innovation mindset? What kinds of projects are best to test out Innovation-based approaches?


What criteria determines a project’s fit to help people and teams build Innovation capabilities?

If you’re just starting out with Innovation work, you should check out this article, What is an Innovation Designer? It outlines 12 core competencies required for someone engaging in Innovation work, and will provide a starting point to build an Innovation mindset and skill set.

For people and teams who have some experience under their belts, but are still wondering which projects are best suited to help test out and build Innovation capability, we have some suggestions.

It can be hard to properly frame Innovation work, and get the necessary time and resources. To help you build Innovation, focus on balancing context and priorities. Organizations will often have their own mandates and ideas for how things should be done, so try to work within that zone, pushing the envelope with the way you work, not rocking the boat. 

The trick is to choose and engage with projects that contribute to the priorities and goals of the organization—you likely won’t be able to start your own moonshot fund—but you might be able to start a project that begins to shift and produce value for a mission or goal already underway. 

Your project should allow teams to test, learn, iterate, and have the space to work while also sharing those learnings with the broader organization. 

This isn’t always easy. But here are some criteria to help you identify the right kind of projects to take on when starting, or continuing, your Innovation work.


What are the ingredients to a successful Innovation project that will help to cultivate an Innovation mindset? 

To help you cultivate an Innovation mindset and test out new approaches, be deliberate in your project choice:

Find projects that are a priority for team members. Side-of-desk innovation projects typically fail because they are sacrificed when other priorities arise. Selecting a project that is a part of a team member’s accountabilities with an allocation of time and budget enables teams to perform and build their capabilities, as they work on building real solutions.

Find projects that require a new approach for developing solutions. Complex challenges require different approaches than what you’ve previously tried. By approaching challenges in new ways, you’ll develop skills as needed to tackle the work. Working on ambiguous projects in particular is where innovation design excels in making an impact.

Find projects that will have a coalition of the willing and a motivated sponsor. Working into new ways of acting is a challenging pursuit and requires support through the process. Leadership has an important role to play in supporting teams through the ups and downs of short, iterative learning loops. Having a motivated sponsor helps teams thrive by being able to remove roadblocks and help the team with their continued momentum.

Find projects that will provide learnings and results that can be shared openly and broadly with your organization. Working in the open and sharing the experiences with a broad set of organization stakeholders will enable the change that the organization is seeking. The outcomes (Success or failure) aren’t always so black and white, so make sure you’re tracking the right metrics and able to tell a story, no matter what. As you share successes and learnings, more people will become interested and supportive of the outcomes being built with the innovation project.


What does it all mean?

If you don’t enable true collaboration, or you’re unable to make the project a priority for the team and the sponsors, the work ends up being piecemeal—and you’ll be left with a list of ideas on someone’s desk that never get anywhere (ugh, ever.) We know that this can be hard, we wrote a whole article about how to avoid the pitfalls of Innovation.

The up front work in getting the right people involved in your project, with priorities and goals attached to that work, will make all the difference in helping that work—and successful outcomes—become a reality. Choosing and helping your project work should be a focus, and broadly sharing both your process and your results across the organization will really help keep the momentum.

Lastly, by sharing your process, work, and learnings across different groups and teams, you may spark ideas or encourage others to change their approach, helping to further cultivate an innovation mindset within your organization. 

Let us know: How are you choosing and setting up your innovation projects? What successes or failures have you seen along the way? Reach out on Twitter, LinkedIn, or email. We’d love to hear from you.

You can learn more about setting up your Innovation Team for Success with our how-to Guide. It will walk you through everything from project team set up, to Innovation frameworks, to scoping an agile design process, ensuring your team—and your innovation ideas—have the best chance at succeeding.


Set Up Your Team For Innovation Success