Taking Ideas Into Sustainable Innovation

One bright idea is pretty but a collection of ideas put into practice over time, sustainably, is beautiful (and real innovation).

Sustainable innovation — a process, practice, and culture of design-driven creativity — might be the most valuable outcome for any organization. Real, sustained innovation is not about creating a single item — product, service, policy — it’s about doing it regularlyconsistentlyover time.

This comes from persistence or what Seth Godin calls The Practice.

Measurement of innovation practice — the amount of activity, persistence, and consistency of effort — is what any organization should be evaluated against. This model fits with our understanding of design thinking, performance and innovation: the more ideas you generate, the more prototypes you create, and the more attempts you make the more likely you are to have better ideasmore successful products, and create real transformation.

A single successful innovation – having one very good idea – might work if you want to get bought by a competitor, but it’s difficult to sustain success over time using this approach. Generating many good ideas and having them implemented into practice is what creates sustainable, resilient organizations. This resilient stance enables organizations to adapt in times of crisis and create new opportunities in times of contraction or turbulence within a market.

A culture of innovation is one that is sustainable and productive over time and there are some metrics we can use to help track whether that fits who we are. It’s also one that can sustain itself through disruptive times. A big ask, right? Not if you capture the right measures and use them — constructively — to inform how you work, not just what you produce.

Metrics of Effort

Development and growth of a culture of innovation can follow different paths, however the outcomes and processes they use often match what we ask of design thinking. These metrics include:

  • Number of attempts
  • Number of ideas generated / ideation sessions engaged in
  • Number of concepts proposed and prototypes developed
  • Background research (e.g., artifacts gathered — although note that this can be a trap for those who might get stuck in the research cycle)
  • Consistently of application (i.e., ongoing use of a process and fidelity)
  • Number of solicitations for feedback from internal and external sources
  • Integrations within existing processes and tools
  • Materials used
  • Evaluation designs created for products or services
  • Evaluations implemented
  • Number of products launched outside of the organization
  • Number of new innovations generated (may be products, processes, or policy improvements)
  • Persistence of effort (e.g., continuity of activity, sequencing, and time-spent)

Together, these can fit with an Innovation Implementation Index that helps to assess innovation activities and how — or whether – they are leading to actual outputs and outcomes. This is an important contribution lest we find ourselves in innovation theatre — lots of show, but little to show for our work.

Looking at not only what you do but how often and persistent your efforts are can be the means to creating and sustaining a culture of innovation and it’s through this culture that real change takes place.

After all, that’s really what innovation is all about.

This article was based on an earlier article posted at Cense.ca. If you’re looking to build in persistence and evaluate the work that you do in shaping innovation, please reach out – we can help build your culture of practice.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: