This post originally appeared in ThoughtLeaders July 30, 2018
By Kumar Mehta

Establishing the conditions that encourage innovation is the best way for your company to consciously develop an environment that consistently lets you produce offerings with new and novel value – innovations in the eyes of your users. The most innovative companies do this instinctively – perhaps because of the culture instilled by superstar leaders, a conscious and successful effort, or the emergence of the right conditions after things just fell into place.

But the fact is that every company can develop this innate innovation capability – something I call an Innovation Biome. Companies are inherently innovative, and their employees often have great ideas that can become market winners. The problem is that companies do not have an environment to support, nurture and germinate the great ideas as they believe that the great ideas are “out there” somewhere. It is critical that your organization focus on innovation from within by recognizing the innovation in front of you.

One of the core assumptions about innovation that every leader needs to understand is that ideas always build on other ideas. Breakthrough innovation is never something that comes out of the blue. Nothing is independent. Progress breeds progress. Improvements lead to other improvements. Just like the Internet – everything is connected. Creativity and innovation are about improving on what is out there and connecting dots in an original way to create new value.

Innovations are rarely, if ever, unique breakthroughs with no history. They come from interconnected, networked ideas. They come from expanding on the lessons of the past. The one common truth across all innovations throughout history is that if an innovation had not happened as we know it, it would still have happened, only with a different set of players and circumstances. We would still have antibiotics if Alexander Fleming had not observed that mold kills bacteria, and we would still be flying had the Wright brothers not pioneered flight, and we would still have mass produced automobiles and light bulbs had Henry Ford or Thomas Edison not made the contributions they did.

Every company has in its possession great ideas and developments. The problem is that these ideas never materialize into inspiring products, instead they get cast away somewhere along the way. For your company to thrive on innovation, it must excel at identifying the ideas and game-changing opportunities that are sitting right in front of it. In many companies, there is often little knowledge of the potential developments being produced in product or R&D departments or even in the minds of its own employees. A good first step to get ready for breakthrough innovation is to map out the idea-to-development flow and understand why new product development or R&D investments are not creating products that get used by customers. This is easy to do, yet many companies have no clue as to what happens to novel ideas and concepts dreamed up within its own walls.

The development of an innovation map is critical if an organization wants to develop an innovation or growth mindset. Without knowledge of the innovation activities going on in your organization, or without knowing the barriers that prevent ideas from morphing into market winners make success through innovation a shot in the dark.

You can build this innovation-readiness map by following the journey of innovation from the time an idea is introduced to the moment it goes into development and reaches customers or is abandoned somewhere along the way. This exercise is certain to highlight the barriers preventing ideas from germinating and becoming value-enhancing offerings.

You will learn why great ideas never become great products. You will learn why innovations that could be breakthroughs often get shoved aside (like the first digital camera developed at Kodak). It could be because they don’t fit with the existing business model or did not get the right attention or have a large enough contribution, or they got subsumed by a larger and more profitable business unit. Any of these factors can impede an innovation from achieving its full potential and becoming bigger than you can imagine.

Your company also needs a simple and replicable methodology to evaluate how new developments can impact customer value. Don’t just make initial judgments solely on near-term P&L impact. This is very likely going to lead you in the wrong direction. Evaluate how much of an improvement an innovation offers in altering a customer experience journey, or the journey a potential customer takes to go through a task. The bigger the impact, or the larger the experience delta, the more likely the new development is going to be a world changing innovation.

Have confidence that your team is coming up with great ideas that can be market-winning offerings. That is not the problem. The problem you need to solve for is recognizing these ideas and making sure you have an environment where they can shine.