So you want to create an Innovation Centre of Excellence? Let us first check that we are speaking about the same thing!
First of all, the concept that I am describing could be applied directly to a company or perhaps an academic institution. It is however generic.
If the ideas here interest you but you have any unanswered questions then please do get in touch and I will do my best to answer them for you.
The most important concept for your Innovation Centre of Excellence (CoE) is that it touches all aspects of Innovation and if you are a business it will touch all parts of the business also. This is the only way that you can create the processes and behaviours that define and sustain Innovation. It should be obvious already that we have gone beyond the stage of the common business incubator (although these may be incorporated).
Given that the CoE is going to have an influence everywhere it must be correctly set up. Here are 5 things that are absolutely essential.
Create A Board or Steering Committee
It does not matter what you call it or how you create it but do not spend time ‘waiting for the right moment’. Do it! By all means include an adviser or two but the majority of members should be closely involved and should be rotated at regular intervals. This keeps things fresh but also helps spread Innovation throughout the organisation.
This is important so you need a major sponsor. This could be the CEO, a Vice Chancellor of a University or a Principal of a Higher Education establishment. They need clout!
Next you must start, announce your purpose, create a bang!
Creating The Bang (or a Vision if you are that way inclined)
Define what exactly it is that you want to achieve. Do you want to be the go to place for knowledge and tools or a repository for teaching materials or perhaps a breeding ground for academic theories and testbed for the latest management science?
Put these into words, pictures, song or even video but use a medium that will arose and/or capture the interest of your intended audience. For instance video might be good if you are setting up a CoE in a University and wish to ensure that students or PhD students are backing the idea.
Do not think about what current organisational structures are currently in place. The CoE must not conform to these, even if its overall governance does have to conform somehow. To be different, you have to feel different!!
Develop A Strategy (or Two)
The word ‘Strategy’ usually makes my heart sink when I see it in a business document. It means that someone has got out their dictionary of ‘grown up’ words to use, even if they do not know what they mean.
At the risk of teaching people to suck eggs, you should be creating some statements about what it is you are going to do but leaving out the ‘how’ for now. You could even write these as massive goals (see my previous blog post) if it helps.
Given that you will be including individuals from many different disciplines, you might find that there are issues with language or terminology. If you are serious for the long term then invent your own vocabulary.
Work On Innovation Culture
This is where the (slightly) standalone CoE of say, a University, might differ, although there is no reason why this should be.
Your CoE is not going to be a traditional academic institution or training function. After working out your vision and creating some strategies or goals you will need to start creating a culture that supports this.
Remember that essentially there are two types of culture, organisational (the one that grows automatically amongst your workforce) and corporate (the one that is handed out/decreed by those at the very top). I am making the big assumption that you will already have high level sponsors so that corporate culture is taken care of.
The question is, what sort of working environment and behaviours will support your vision. Do you want a reconfigurable workplace, walls that you can write on, lots of technology, collaborative workspaces and cafes?
The list is endless but your budget will not be!!
Develop A Set of Un Processes
I use the word un process because I simply do not like the word ‘process’ and cannot think of another suitable or cool word to use.
We must standardise some of the work that we do. For instance if your CoE was working with outside agencies then the interface would need to be fixed in some way. If your CoE was part of a University then your methods of interacting with academic departments or rotating staff and students would need to be fixed.
Other than this sort of thing, there should be no boundaries.
This can be neatly summed up by a conversation that I had with the Director of Compliance of a large bank. She really liked all the stuff in my workshop about using Creativity and Innovation but said that their hands were tied because of compliance. Both true and untrue.
As with many regulated industries there is a tightly defined boundary between an organisation and its customers. Just as this definition does not define what customers do when not interacting with the bank, it does not need to define the internal workings of the bank. There is much excitement to be had here!