When you think of innovation, what are the names that spring to mind?
When I put that question to an audience of technologists and business folk at the London leg of this year’s Fujitsu World Tour, the answers were names you might expect: Elon Musk, James Dyson, even Leonardo DaVinci.
Most striking about these responses – and you could perhaps forgive them for responding to a leading question – is that all those named are individual people. By their very nature, they are the exception and not the rule.
In truth, innovation is a product of people working and creating together. It doesn’t rely on one person. Even the Musks and Dysons of this world depend on trusted teams working closely with them.
All of us have the potential to innovate, and it’s important that this is recognised so that organisations can put in place proper processes to unlock that potential.
It’s about connecting people from different parts of our businesses and different parts of the world to bring their unique perspectives together and create something new. It’s about learning and adapting to those perspectives and rapidly progressing from ideas into concepts.
I have six golden rules that I work to for successful co-creation. I spoke about these at the Tour and, of course, it would be remiss of me not to include them here for anyone who couldn’t make it …
1. Start with the end in mind
People tend to look at what’s happening in the here and now, but don’t ask key questions: why are you actually doing this? What are you really trying to achieve? What are the real benefits?
Of course, over time the shape and location of these goals may change – particularly as you iterate through different ideas and sometimes veer off course – but a long view is key. It’ll help shape your processes and best allocate resources.
2. Use frameworks, not methodology
Methodologies, in typical form, are very rigid and structured, whereas frameworks give you boundaries, and room to bounce ideas around. By taking away some of the structure and giving yourself space, the scope for creativity is higher.
If you have a methodology that stipulates X must be followed by Y, then that effectively constrains how you’ll approach any challenge – and it doesn’t make for the easiest means of bringing together different people from separate areas of your business either.
You need to be accommodating, and open to providing that creative space in which shared ideas can be built on and blossom.
3. Communicate, collaborate, diversify
Today, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll have situations in which teams are dotted all over the place and collaboration feels like more of a challenge than it should be. But this is a challenge worth surmounting in order to put together the right mix of people.
Having people around you who can bring a diverse range of ideas to the table is invaluable. If you think about it – your “box” of ideas gets a little bigger with each new person you bring into the team. On that basis – there’s no need to starting thinking “outside of the box” until your box isn’t big enough to think inside of!
4. Engage your audience
We all have expectations about how things should work, and you need to take this into account at all times. Make sure everything matches, or at least acknowledges those expectations.
A focus on user experience is key – especially when you’re developing solutions that are taking users on a journey into the unknown.
It’s another good way to keep you on track with the first rule starting with the end in mind.
5. Prove fast, prove cheap
Let’s not talk about ‘failing fast’, let’s talk about proving: you might have proven something doesn’t work, but that still counts as proving something – and 9 times out of 10 – you’ll use that work somewhere else – so it’s not wasted.
Don’t shy away from making prototypes. They’re an ideal way to get actionable feedback on the feasibility of what you’re trying to achieve.
They help bring things to life and improve the accuracy of what you’re doing immeasurably – bringing down the cost of delivery in the long run.
6. Test. Iterate. Test.
Perhaps the most important rule of all: you’re never going to get it right first time on your own.
Ignore the walkthrough guides, because you’re walking new ground here. Keep testing, keep iterating.
In this spirit, a list of rules wouldn’t be much without an example of how they work in action.
You can find out more about the work I’ve doing with Macmillan to co-create the future of charitable donations.
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