Can Innovation be measured? The answer is of course yes! The problem comes when your definition of Innovation and mine do not coincide!
Many people will trot out a list of KPIs that are just modified version of standard production/manufacturing indicators. These could include number of ideas generated, number of ideas actually turned into products, time from conception to production etc.
What I am interested in is the behavioural aspects. What actually is there that will allow a business to innovate? Its a bit like the voltage in a battery. The battery may not be doing any work if its not inserted into a device, but what is its potential to do some work? How can you measure the potential of your organisation to innovate?
For details of the Innovation Equation you can visit my website or send an enquiry and ask for details of Innovation Measurement. In a nutshell, the Innovation Equation is a model, the components of which are Innovation Output, Creativity, Knowledge and Maturity. These can be assessed via surveys to give a detailed picture of the organisation.
Surveys can be taken with demographics recorded such as location, function, job description etc. The resulting data will allow scarce resources to be targetted at the appropriate parts of the organisation rather than trying to pass every employee through an Innovation Programme. You will also find out where the barriers are.
Results are given via an easy to read target diagram and a colour coded traffic light system. More detail is there if you wish to have it.
Do electricity and fruit mix?
Whilst standing in the shower I let my mind wander a little (well quite a bit actually). It settled upon the electrification of fruit as a topic. I began to wonder what electrified fruit might look, smell and feel like. What functionality would it have, what consumer needs would it fulfill? My sensible, logical side then said ‘don’t be silly you can’t electrify fruit’. And it might be right but flip this on it’s head, what if fruit could supply electricity?
Many of us have at some time created a ‘potato clock’, a device powered by a potato. That will not save the energy problems that we have because it produces very little current but the subject of fruit & veg together with electricity is a very interesting space for ideas (bio mass etc).
Boundaries and assumptions
This led me to thinking a little more seriously about assumptions and boundaries. Many people might assume that fruit and vegetables have no place mixing with electricity. Someone has created an arbitrary boundary there, a fence that says ‘do not enter’ to your brain. This might be a good idea but what if …?
Another interesting subject is that of stereotypes or categories. Do you remember when the EU first started meddling in food products? In Portugal they produced Carrot Marmalade. I’m sure that it is a fine product and the EU obviously thought so too. They had previously decreed that marmalade must be made from fruit and so redefined carrots as fruit rather than vegetables.
This arbitrary and silly categorisation has far reaching consequences but it is entirely un necessary. It now forces EU bureaucrats to think of the category of fruit as containing carrots whilst the category vegetables does not contain carrots. This might mean that carrot growers are treated as exactly as fruit growers or excluded from obtaining grants or subsidies aimed at farmers or vegetable growers.
How often does our categorisation of objects or behaviours prevent us from solving problems or taking a potentially advantageous course of action? Instead of being controlled by labels, we should focus on what works and what does not. Maybe one day we will electrify fruit, who knows? Until then, let us trample over the arbitrary boundaries that are created.
What do we mean?
Engineering Innovation is a deliberately ambiguous title. Does it mean that Innovation can be engineered or is it highlighting Innovation for Engineers? The answer is actually yes to both.
For a long time I have been promoting a system that can measure Innovation potential. The aim is to help develop an Innovation blueprint for organisations in any sector. Now it is time to focus on engineering and manufacturing. In the current economic climate there are organisations that will sadly fail. There are organisations that are doing well both in terms of Innovation and long term sustainability. For a good example based here in the UK take a look at Gripple Limited, a Sheffield based company. It is both innovative in its leadership, products, structure and the adoption of shared ownership.
Many businesses would like to copy Gripple but cannot, why? The reason is simple. We can copy buildings, products and manuals but we cannot copy what is inside the heads of employees. Truly innovative companies share certain traits but the sharing of knowledge, the creation of ideas and the frameworks that help to make up company culture are different.
Can Innovation be engineered?
For this very reason I have created Engineering Innovation in order to help businesses in the Engineering and Manufacturing sectors to work in ways similar to Gripple. The aim is to create businesses that are truly innovative and sustainable using concepts that are reasonably familiar to to those who work in these sectors. The programme is based on three principles – Understand, Model and Build. The first principle provides a framework for understanding the innovation process, what is possible, becoming used to living with ambiguity and defining the scope and resources for the journey. The second builds a model that shows where a business is in terms of its ability to innovate, identifying what it is good at, the quick wins needed to help generate buy in, and where scarce resources are best targeted. Finally we build the organisation that will create new products, services and processes based upon the work done so far. Note we do not destroy, merely transform and enhance to produce ‘total innovation’ that pervades every part of the organisation.
Why is this approach unique? For an in depth answer please get in touch. But in a nutshell, Innovation is a strategy based on humans, their behaviour and the way they communicate and interact and is very little to do with shiny gizmos and gadgets. It can be defined in terms of outputs with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) but is much better modelled using drivers for human behaviour such as those that promote, creativity, good leadership etc. This is what I have done and this soft engineering approach appears to be unique. Does it work? Yes!
Many readers will have seen either Undercover Boss or Undercover Boss USA where the boss goes undercover, working with frontline staff to see how the business is really performing. I’m sure that these companies are selected for their entertainment value but they do throw up some real issues.
In many cases the businesses are not performing but the bosses seem not to be playing the blame game. They realise that in many cases head office is a little out of touch. What they do seem to get though is that if they support their staff then they will get the best out of them. They then stand a fighting chance of beating the recession.
So, you’re the boss. Do you dare to go undercover and find out what is really happening? How will you react when employees do not worship your photograph. What do you suppose they say about you? Do they like their pay and working conditions? What will you do when you find that front line staff are abused, spat at or are targeted by armed robbers?
You’re not the boss. Is your the sort of business where the boss would come and find out how you are doing? If so then great, if not then how can you attract his attention? If the boss (or bosses) is not interested then I recommend you look for a new and better job right away!
Finally, no bosses should be going undercover anyway. Employees should know who the boss is and how to contact them (about important issues). They should be able to equate those at the top with company vision and values. Bosses should also have their finger on the pulse and have a much better idea of the workings of their business and the opinions of frontline staff. Sounds like a call for a cull of middle management – make up your own mind about that!
Do you identify with any of the following?
- You have criticised an employee openly in public
- You have taken credit for the work of others
- Your employees are anxious in your presence
- You expect employees to do what you tell them without question
- You believe employees should automatically know what to do without guidance
- You shout or scream at others in the workplace
- You publicly belittle employees as a method of punishing them
- You have favourites amongst your employees and you make this known
- You dislike or fear delegating
- You constantly check the work of others and micromanage constantly
The more of the above statements you identify with, the greater the chance that you are a ‘Bad Boss’.
Think about the last time you had a ‘Good Boss’. I bet that they:
- Were humble about their own achievements
- Showed integrity
- Were knowledgeable
- Allowed people to work unhindered
- Provided support when necessary
- Were keen to try new things
And if you had a ‘Bad Boss’ they probably:
- Were never there when needed
- Wanted to know what you were doing and why
- Usually said ‘no’ when you suggested new ideas
- Made you feel as if you were not trusted
- Looked glum most of the time
- Talked about themselves a lot and listened very little
I think that you get the idea. Now which type of boss are you and what are you going to do about it?