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A Systematic Approach to Encouraging Innovation

John_E_Simpson
Employee
2 0 1,921

How does innovation happen? Is it just a stroke of random luck? Is it some sort of lightbulb experience that no one can control or predict? At Intel IT, we think innovation is more like swimming or speaking a foreign language—that is, innovation is a skill, not an accident.

According to an article from Harvard Business Publishing, we don’t get good at something “until we practice, get feedback, refine our approach, and practice again.”[1] Intel IT has taken this “practice makes perfect” approach to encouraging new ideas by creating a system of innovation. I say a “system” to differentiate it from an Agile “program.” The main difference is that a program is a transient initiative, reliant upon funding. It is active only for a time. On the other hand, a system is a permanent institution that can serve as a core approach for managers, independent of a certain person being in charge or a specific budget line item.

We recently wrote an IT@Intel white paper, “Creating a System of Innovation.” In this blog, I want to focus on two aspects: how we “practice” innovation and how, during this practice, we foster an attitude that stimulates innovative thinking.

Every Skill Requires Practice

To build Intel IT employees’ innovation skillsets, we hold quarterly events called Innovation Days (InnoDays), where teams have 24 hours to ideate, experiment and learn from failure. We invite 1,000 employees to each event, which includes a theme, such as “Deliver Value Faster with Higher Quality” or “Strengthen Customer Connections.” Capacity to work during this time is reserved to ensure that all work stops, and any intra-team dependencies do not interfere with work delivery. InnoDays focus on ideas that can be implemented solely by a program or team. (Ideas that involve more funding are candidates for a Shark Tank.)

We believe that the more you learn about innovation, the more you will innovate and build value. We provide resources that employees can use to build their innovation skills. For example, our Build Skills as an Idea Generator guide lists links to courses, videos and articles about innovation. After each InnoDay, we ask participants for a 1-to-5-star rating of the event and analyze what went well, what could have been done better, and how to apply those learnings to future InnoDays.

Attitude Is Everything

 “Your attitude has a direct impact on how you communicate and collaborate with others, how you contribute to the culture of your work environment, and how you perform your daily tasks and responsibilities.”[2] This quote succinctly summarizes how attitude is directly linked with outcome. We have formulated the “five golden rules of ideation” to help guide employees’ attitude while they generate ideas during InnoDays.

 

Five Golden Rules of Ideation

  1. There are no bad ideas.
  2. Quantity over quality.
  3. Document everything.
  4. Use and enrich others’ input for stronger ideas.
  5. Keep an open mind and a non-judgmental attitude.

 

Let’s explore how these golden rules might play out as employees begin to explore ideas. Suppose team member #1 says “I think we should build an airplane with five wings.”

 

Innovation crushing response: “That will never work. People would never ride such a thing.”

Innovation stimulating response: “Let’s explore that. What if it had five wings and they were vertical?”

 

The keyword in the second response is “and.” To encourage ideation, team members should build on each other’s ideas instead of tearing them down. Fear and judgment suppress good ideation.

Continuing our example, team member #3 says “We don’t know enough about airplane lift—let’s bring in an engineer.” Then team member #2 adds “Could an airplane with five wings even land at an airport? Let’s also consult with someone with a background in aviation or airport logistics.” We advise team members to reach out to experts because each team member has a different life history, has learned different life lessons, has a different knowledge set and so on. Teams that have a variety of ages, backgrounds and ethnicities often generate the best ideas.

Our example continues: Quickly writing all these ideas down, one of the team members asks “what problem does the five wings solve—are they providing more lift? What if we had fewer wings but made them wider?” The more ideas the better. Our Ideation Generator guide provides a summary of several approaches to ideation, such as the Idea Sprint approach and the Starburst approach.

For more details about InnoDays and how the resulting innovations are saving at least 122 hours per week (6,300 hours per year), read the IT@Intel white paper, “Creating a System of Innovation.”

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[1] Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning, “The Importance Of Practice – And Our Reluctance To Do It

[2] Focus 3, “The Power of Attitude

About the Author
Enterprise Architect and Software Engineer at Intel Corp.