The foundation of innovative thinking is to break out in a direction that is radically new. Not all alternative paths guarantee success, but the journey will be worth it, as discussed in the blog, “Pursuing a Road Less Traveled Can Lead To Greater Success.”

The innovation process, not to be confused with innovative thinking, at the enterprise level needs to be structured, productive and reproducible. You need a reliable course of action that can be put into place and shared across departments. Harvard Business Review conducted an interview with author Vijay Govindarajan on “Executing on Innovation.” And in Vijay’s book he concluded firms tend to excel at idea generation, but the innovation process breaks down at the level of execution, which is why most businesses don’t survive in the long run.

Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” I say, “Innovation is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” What is needed is not better brainstorming on the front-end, but a better process to follow on the back-end. The responsibility of corporate innovation tends to get lumped in with technology. As a result, business leaders often expect there to be a fast, direct and simple method for deploying innovation once the general concept crystallizes.

In fact, just the opposite is true. Execution is everything.

Innovation execution is a process that requires strategic planning and a set of guidelines to follow. Work through these steps on your next innovative project and watch it take shape as a productive reality.

Step 1: Create intention and shared vision

Support from top decision-makers is critical at this stage. It is up to the leader to begin with the end in mind and to set the course before subgroups go off to work within their specialized fields. Discovering basic misunderstandings late in the process will doom the project. Create the intention and assure that your entire team is working from a shared vision for the innovation you want to make a reality.

Step 2: Socialize intention and organize resources

Start to network within the organization as there are different people and departments that can assist with this project. There are likely other resources within the organization that could assist in the completion of this project. If these resources do not help directly solve the problem at hand, they will certainly provide context for what hasn’t worked in the past. In many cases, you will have to launch a process to identify outside skills that need to be brought in when internal resources will not be sufficient.

Step 3: Establish plan aligned with core competencies and capacities

Once you have sign-off from the necessary people and have gathered the resources currently available, the real work begins. Take what you have learned so far and develop the strategic plan of action. Do the work to schedule deadlines and deliverables. Carefully consider both the competencies and capacity of the project team. Measure progress and course correct as necessary.

Step 4: Reflect on progress and make necessary adjustments

As measurements and course corrections are made in the step above, take time to analyze and reflect. Lay out what has worked to stay on track and prevent further delays. If conditions have changed since launch, you may need to pivot. If meeting the original deadline will not meet the goals of the project, make a case as to why it may need more time. You may need to involve other stakeholders and secure more leadership support.

The Road to Realization (Success)

In essence, a better process for execution leads to innovation breakthroughs. Your time, resources and the goodwill of your stakeholders are finite. And you have limited opportunities to develop value for your customers. Remember, innovators are problem-solvers and their time is best spent on the back-end. While successful innovation is all about execution and following a process to see commercial success. Get your team onboard with a shared vision, engage the right resources, whether they are internal or external, finalize your plan with built-in time for course corrections and then execute with critical self-analysis.

Innovation is not just about ideas; it’s about working through these steps to see innovation break through.

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