Creating a Culture of Innovation

By David Quinlan

A personal journey into the world of innovation and what it might mean for your business.

Few things can be scarier than challenging ourselves and our preconceived notions. Yet, fewer things can be more rewarding.

This is my behind the scenes, unscripted back story of how I challenged myself and staff. We tore down our preconceived notions and learned what it means to be innovative and how even a 107-year-old organization like BBB can make it happen.

Trust me, I get it. I’ve found myself in numerous situations where I felt like a fish out of water, grappling with an abstract idea or concept. It’s uncomfortable – especially if you’re a process freak like me!

So, when my organization, BBB Northwest + Pacific, moved forward with an outside the box approach to tackling innovation – I wasn’t convinced. Where’s the market research? Who’s going to be our PM? Where’s the Gannt Chart??

Calm down David! We’re not creating a Trello board – we’re innovating!

This is a blog post about my journey into the world of innovation and enrollment in the Innovators Academy (IA) led by a team of internationally recognized business advisers who specialize in a creative and systematic approach to business.  

We are innovators  

I assure you my cohort felt little out of place when we first met. Twenty people from our organization were selected to join this first team of the IA. The cohort included board members, managers, executives, new employees, and a mix of different teams across the organization inside BBB.  

It is day one of a two-day session. The first of many in-person meetings that will stretch over the course of twelve months. Packed into a conference room at the Boise Hilton Garden Inn - everyone looked nervously around, curious as to what was about to happen. Dale Dixon, BBB's Chief Innovation Officer, kicked things off by introducing Evans Baiya - a consultant, innovator, author, speaker and our boss for the duration of this journey.

"We are about to disrupt ourselves," Evans told us. "We are going to create a culture of collaboration and all of you are going to play a big part in it."

Okay, this sounds really intriguing. But disrupt us how? And what does he mean by innovation?

I'll unpack the first question later - but the best way to describe innovation is this simple formula:

Innovation = Value Created

Innovation can take on many shapes and sizes, but if done correctly it can build organizations by creating revenue, growing its brand, attracting talent and most importantly providing value to the customer.  

Think of Moore's Law and how the world of computing changes every 18-months making what was once a new device obsolete. Organizations need to look at innovation the same way. If we don't look ahead, we will not be able to adapt and change. If that happens, we don't have a chance. 

Creating value

The IA team is here to create value. That's our one job over the next year and it's up to this group of innovators to lead the way by training, practicing, and experimenting with innovation. It will be our job to identify, develop, and scale ideas that create value for our customers.  

We must have a customer voice in everything we do.  

I think of Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, when he holds his leadership meetings and always leaves one chair empty to represent the customer. I thought that was so powerful because how often do we as business leaders assume, we have all the answers? I remember a mentor of mine once asked me, “if your organization dies today - who's going to miss you”  

It better be your customers!

There are five types of value that we define at IA.

  1. Convenience 
  2. Function
  3. Form/Design
  4. Economic
  5. Social

Each one raises questions that organizations need to answer. For example: What do customers think of value? How does value help us get a job done? What are people willing to pay? How can we make money and are there any social gains? However, probably the most important type of value to include, is people. We cannot underestimate the value of people.  

It's a powerful statement, but it makes perfect sense. Valuing people means we know how to position them for success and aligning them with their strengths. That will lead to innovation. To get there, however, we are going to have to collaborate and disrupt. Challenge each other as a team. Collect data. Listen to feedback. Never assume. Solve problems together. After all, innovation always circles back to how well we collaborate - especially when you collaborate with an unlikely person.  

Stages of innovation  

Did you know that 83% of US companies under $300 M in revenue do not successfully innovate? That's because they never had to innovate. When I heard that, I thought of Kodak and Sears. Two powerhouse brands that quickly fell behind.  

So now that we've defined what it means to innovate and how collaboration plays an instrumental part- it's time for us to understand the different stages of innovation. The Innovators Advantage breaks it up into two different buckets - front end innovation and back end innovation.  

Front End Innovation

  • Identify
  • Define
  • Develop

Back End Innovation

  • Verify
  • Deploy
  • Scale

Each stage has different objectives, goals, and activities that allow us to come up with a solution, develop it into a product and eventually deploy to our customers. This is a critical process and powerful tool in how we identify an opportunity and execute on a goal. It's at the core of IA - a continuum of selecting, refining, and creating outcomes.  

(Read Innovator's Advantage to see the full context: theinnovatorsadvantage.com

 Creative vs. innovative  

Being creative is not the same thing as being innovative. Creativity is a driver for innovation. It helps get us there. Creativity is thinking up new things, while innovation is doing new things.

How many ideas can you come up with that have been super successful on their own? Most innovations are built off another idea, but with disruptive impact. This is easier said than done considering the number of barriers there are preventing individuals / organizations from reaching that point.

Four P's of Innovation

The Innovator's Advantage describes two categories of innovation: incremental and disruptive. I touched on both earlier, but incremental refers to building off something that already exists while disruptive is considered radical and a breakthrough innovation.

Taking innovation one step deeper - there are subcategories or types innovation, which impacts a specific part of the organization. Innovators Advantage identifies four.

  1. Product Innovation
  2. Process Innovation
  3. Position Innovation
  4. Paradigm Innovation  

Being that the BBB is a multi-sided organization with different customer segments, defining the different types of innovations can be challenging. It will be up to this 20-person team to help lead that discussion across the organization and to our customers. 

Okay, let's recap

  • Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific is trying to disrupt itself to create new value for its customers.
  • A team of innovators has been selected to help collaborate and lead by undergoing a challenging, one-year innovation academy.
  • Innovation equals value created.
  • There are different types of innovations that impact all aspects of an organization.
  • Never underestimate the people value! Positioning people to use their strengths will lead to greater success and innovation.

I really encourage you to check out the book The Innovators Advantage by Ron Price and Evans Baiya. It's at the core of what we are trying to do as an organization. While we are only one-session in, our team of innovators has been challenged in creating new value for BBB that our current and future customers will need to help them be successful.

Let's do this!

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