Are you truly committed?

By Catherine Neville, VP and Lead Coach, Excellence Canada,
and facilitator of Excellence Canada’s Thought Leaders Roundtable (April 2014)



At the Excellence Canada Thought Leaders Roundtable, recently convened in Toronto, 25 senior executives came together to discuss innovation in their organizations.  These executives, who also serve on the Excellence Canada Board of Governors, brought a wide range of perspectives to the topic from SME’s to large organizations in the business and public sectors.  
The session began with a brief assessment by each participant of their organization’s relationship with innovation.1  The results ranged from ‘just flirting with innovation’ to a ‘lifelong commitment to innovation’.
For the purposes of this discussion, innovation was defined as:

  • The process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay, i.e.
    • To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need. Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative in deriving greater or different values from resources, and includes all processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products. In business, innovation often results when ideas are applied by the company in order to further satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers.2

    In three teams, the participants identified:

    • What is needed for innovation to work, and the major reasons for failure
    • How their organizations have embraced innovation while avoiding expensive pitfalls
    • Their innovation winners including why they thought they were successful


    Their Results!

    1.  What is needed for innovation to work

    • An open mind!  While innovation could produce new idea, it could also be an adaptation of the idea or a new application of an existing idea, e.g. in a new market
    • Commitment; Persistence; Resilience
    • Overcoming resistance to change
    • A willingness to adapt an original idea to fit a new situation
    • An understanding that process improvement often reflects innovation
    • An environment where people have time to talk, actively listen, think and challenge the status quo
    • A flexible work environment that encourages and respects ideas from anyone in the organization
    • An environment that accepts failure and recognizes innovation efforts regardless of the outcome
    • Aligning innovation with the end goal
    • A workplace that develops a culture of high trust will release the creative energy in the organization as people will feel safe enough to suggest new ideas and to experiment without fear of reprisal.
    • Developing a strong sense of community in the workplace can lead to a feeling of ‘we-ness” and “we are all in this together” which can lead to a strong feeling of belonging and ownership which in turn can release higher levels of creativity and innovation.
    • Developing a “listening” culture where leaders listen to each other and to their staff.  Listening for and supporting new ideas is probably one of the most important skills that leaders and staff can do to release innovation.  To be really listened to is also very affirming for staff further empowering them to want to be more creative and innovative.


    2.  The major reasons for failure

    • Starting too big
    • Top down approach
    • Too much process/discipline in terms of approach – can restrict innovation rather than foster it
    • Waiting for perfection
    • Impatience when launching a new idea – give it time
    • Focusing on lost opportunities rather than opportunities for the future
    • Lack of trust in the organization
    • Ineffective listening skills


    3.  How they embraced innovation while avoiding expensive pitfalls

    • The use of an ‘Innovation Den’.   Individuals/teams apply to present an idea.  The application is screened against such things as organizational values.  The resulting ideas are presented for comment and challenge.   
    • Consider a black hat participant in evaluation of ideas to ensure difficult question are being asked  
    • Open Innovation Platform.  Criteria are established and put out to the market, including employees, so anyone can bring forward ideas.   This organization looks for ideas that have been tested to some extent to be less risky for the organization. 
    • Add new lines of business and/or new features that align with our strategies.  Take small steps re risk/investment, assess regularly, and abandon it if not working…but not too soon 
    • Limit investment to  a predetermined amount 
    • Build in off-ramps that you can take if not successful 
    • Connect the innovation engine to a customer or organizational problem so that the innovative idea is a solution to that problem 
    • Ensure the innovation platform encourages ideas from the grass roots and up  


    4.  Their innovation winners

    • Could be a brand new product, e.g. 3M sticky notes, Kleenex facial tissues
    • A big area of innovation is through process improvement, e.g. getting rid of bottlenecks
    • Clear, simple ideas, where complexity is reduced
    • Re-packaged products to make it relevant for new markets, e.g. idea born and applied in Australia; subsequently introduced in Canada.
    • Bundling several products, rebranding as a ‘new’ product with unique benefits
    • Those things that make is easier for clients to deal with us
    • Creating a Research & Innovation Department where leaders meet on a regular basis to de-stress, and share; in that sharing they are generating ideas
    • Office Quality initiatives – becoming a catalyst for innovation
    • CEO Innovation Award to recognize a culture of innovation.  33 Applications in the first year!
    • Assessing existing programs or products for relevance in their markets


    Following a roundtable discussion on the team findings, the group also reviewed the Twelve Innovation Lessons for 20143 presented by the facilitator, and agreed they were helpful!

    They are:

    Exceptional is expected

    Happy customers make you happy

    Innovation is episodic

    Software beats hardware

    Making money matters

    Sustainability has found a new gear

    “Made in China” is a compliment

    Unlocking global talent unlocks possibility

    The biggest winner in the App economy remains Apple

    Passion is underrated

    Conflict isn’t required

    Dreaming big isn’t folly; it’s required


    Innovation is alive and well in the minds and practices of these esteemed organizations. Many commend their staff and the grass-roots ideas that blossom in the right environment.   Big or small, innovation is making a difference through process improvement and beyond.   A balance of patience and knowing when enough is enough is challenging and achievable.
    Kudos to the participants in this inspiring Thought Leaders Roundtable!   We are delighted to share this conversation with our readers, and wish you all well with your pursuit of excellence through innovation.




    What’s the Status of Your Relationship with Innovation?  By Scott Anthony, September 11, 2013 Blog Network 


    3 World’s Most Innovative Companies 2014 by Robert Safian, February 10, 2014

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