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How to spark innovation within a big company

You’re only as good as your last good idea, right? This is as true for companies as it is for the employees within it.

A company’s value lies in how much it can deliver to its clients and customers. So, who better to create new products and services that would be beneficial to their businesses than the teams that already work with them? I feel it’s obvious that giving employees the space, freedom, and support to think beyond a company’s core product range is paramount to continuing to deliver value to clients.

But how can you support and encourage your team in developing something beyond the core products and services? And how can you best present these ideas in order for them to become a reality? This article will cover actionable ways for innovation to become a reality in a big firm — for both the employee and the company as a whole.

Make some noise

Normally the newer, innovative ideas don’t initially generate much revenue, and their inherent high risk of failure means they’re less glamorous than other projects. Therefore, without being proactive, they are doomed to stay under the radar.

Your role is to make noise around the idea so that potential stakeholders are excited to learn more about it. At this stage, it’s really important to reach out to key individuals within the company and ask for advice, so you can more easily establish an affiliation between them and the new activity, and cultivate a community of internal supporters.

In addition to collaboration, spreading the word can also expose high level management to its progress and importance. All of this will increase your chances of having more resources allocated to it, and thus improving its chances of getting off the ground.

A few ways to bang the drum for your idea are sending frequent summaries about progress, face-to-face meetings with stakeholders and key players, sharing your success stories, and what I found most important, inviting people to contribute.

After the first success of my team’s project, I shared the news via email to a large number of people in the wider company. Many people replied with suggestions of how to further improve the idea. I felt protective at first — this was my team’s project, but over time I have learned that these suggestions are a gift and that involving people in your product will benefit you as they will cheer for your success, give valuable insights from their field, and support from their teams.

Be the stronghold of your team

You may encounter hurdles as you progress and pave the way. This includes failure, which is only natural as the trial and error process is just beginning.

This might cause your team members to feel frustrated and discouraged. What can you do about it? Be empathetic, optimistic, and positive, and keep these attributes front and center when navigating the initial, stormy waters. Remember, creating something new and learning the lessons along the way is exciting and rewarding in and of itself — and you can use this to spark enthusiasm within your team.

A year ago, my company launched a new and innovative product from my team, and it didn’t perform well at first. Even after spending the first two months making iterations and changes, we weren’t seeing any success. This meant that some of the team doubted the potential of the new product.

In order to revive the motivation of my team, I had to repeat the mantra that we have the privilege of working on a new product which is completely unique to us, and that we could shape it together as we liked in order to make it succeed. Today this product is one of our most in-demand offerings, and has delivered ROI to the time and resources we invested. So don’t give up too easily!

Build — measure — learn

Developing something new requires a team to potentially adapt and change at every stage, and to make quick decisions. So, it’s important to develop a really solid learning process. After all, it could be a waste of time and resources to work on a product that the market doesn’t have a need or desire for.

The Lean philosophy of product management talks about the action loop of “build-measure-learn”. It’s especially fitting when trying to develop something new and innovative in which the hit-or-miss process is the standard. Lowering time-to-market and production costs will enable you to make better use of your limited resources and keep your heads above water for longer.

When my team and I first launched one of our new products we invested in lengthy development and design processes for each version. Eventually we learned that there was little point in investing that amount of time into each and every version, as we weren’t able to predict which iteration users would prefer. The result? Once we started iterating in shorter cycles, we saw a huge impact on the performance of our product and less strain on our resources.

Simultaneously, conducting frequent tests and learning from them will help you improve your product and adjust it quickly to market needs. Data should be your best friend and guide you along the way as you perform various tests. Be open minded, the results might surprise you and it’s important to challenge your perceptions.

Innovative ideas are great, but are not enough to secure success. Pursuing them and making them a reality is the real challenge. But, the harder the challenge is the sweeter the victory.

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