Get Rid of Your Innovation Goals. Solve Problems Instead.


by Tim Metzner

This is the 3rd post in our blog series,  Innovating Like a Startup (When You’re Not in a Startup.)    Previous Post:  How to Find Innovation Allies at Work 

Real innovation is about solving problems, not just having ideas. There are multiple ingredients that can help a team become more innovative, such as a collaborative workspace, helpful resources, or an internal innovation program. However, the reality is, without having a specific problem to solve, those are of little value. With no clear objective, your team is playing in an innovation sandbox. All senior leaders want to have a line of sight to ROI, so finding, understanding, and proposing solutions to existing problems that will either directly cut costs, or make the company money is usually a necessary step in the path to getting a budget for an innovation initiative.

As with any form of goal setting, the more precise we are with defining, forming and setting goals, the more likely they are to succeed. Setting generic innovation objectives like “stay ahead of competition” or “continuous innovation” is like setting a goal to “lose weight.” It’s not specific enough and isn’t informed by a deeper why. Instead, we want to look for SMART problems to solve:

Specific: there is an identifiable pain that has been validated by interviewing people who deeply understand the problem

Measurable: we can boil the problem down to metrics that we can track and know what success looks like

Actionable: Is this a problem that we can actually solve (do we have the right knowledge, people, and/or resources to run after)?

Reasonable/realistic: is it realistic to believe that the success metrics identified are achievable? As much as we want you to believe “anything is possible,” the reality is if we’re targeting seemingly unreasonably hard problems to solve (at least with early innovation efforts), we’re not likely to get necessary approvals.

Timely: Is the timing right for the company to tackle this problem; is there a narrative about “why now” that will resonate with senior leaders and other stakeholders the project would touch?

Once you’ve identified a SMART problem to solve, your next goal is selling. Similar to the advice we have been giving to young startup founders for years, if you’re going to champion a project like this internally, your chief job will be selling your vision. You need to sell to management, sell to other employees (to get their time), sell to the people whose problem you’re solving (so they’ll actually implement/use your solution), and sell to the CFO/finance department (to get a budget approved).

So how do you do this? This is what I’ll dive into in my upcoming post. We’ll cover how to figure out you need to pitch (i.e. who has to say “yes” in order for your project to move forward), how to define a clear ask, and how to structure your pitch. Stay tuned!

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