Failure to change will leave government shackled to the status quo. Here are some ideas for changing your cultural mindset.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no bolt of lightning when it comes to sparking innovation. “It’s not a momentary flash of brilliance, the next bright and shiny object,” said Darin Atteberry, city manager of Fort Collins, Colo. Sometimes, innovation can be as humdrum as a utility meter.
The city’s new “smart meters” may seem mundane, but they’re having a profound impact on the civic experience. “Now the consumers will have a portal where they can watch their consumption on a real-time basis,” Atteberry said. “We are building a two-way relationship with our customer.”
Innovation isn’t necessarily a dramatic change. Rather, it’s something transformative. It may be a new way of thinking, a new way of managing processes or a new use for technology that no one had foreseen.
“Innovation is essentially about breaking constraints,” said William Eggers, global director of Deloitte’s public-sector research. “Previously, if I wanted to have high-powered computing, I needed a desktop and a laptop, but it wasn’t nearly as convenient as a mobile phone. So I had to trade convenience for power. Today with tablets and mobile apps, we have eliminated that tradeoff. And the cost is less. That is a true innovation, because it broke a constraint that was previously there.”
Easily said; perhaps less easily accomplished. How can government loosen it shackles, free its people to delve into their creative selves and emerge with something truly different?
Photo: William Eggers, global director of Deloitte's public-sector research. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Often it begins with pain, said William Horne, city manager of Clearwater, Fla. Frustrated customers have typically spurred innovation in his town. The community groused about the city’s website. Business leaders complained that permitting was too slow and the waits too long in City Hall. In each of these cases, “We said: There’s got to be a smarter way to do this.”
Creativity often requires a jump-start. Again: You can’t wait for that bolt of lightning. Sometimes it’s more like a kick in the pants, said Karen Thoreson, president and COO of the Alliance for Innovation, a Phoenix group working to encourage excellence in local government.
“You start by assessing how much innovation is going on in your organization right now,” she said. “What is the internal tolerance for risk and change? Do you want to go soaring off the cliff or take some baby steps?”
With a view of the landscape shaping up, change drivers then need to gather likely innovators and shake up their thinking. “So you ask them, ‘What’s the most surprising thing that has happened to you in the last 10 years and why?’” Thoreson said. “It makes people look inside, makes them see all the changes that have occurred that they would not have anticipated. That, in turn, puts them in a new mindset. It takes your mind through a whole set of different clicks.”
Ask local planners to work out the problems of a fishing industry executive in Thailand. Mental walls collapse, making room for change. “We want your brain to hurt a little bit,” Thoreson said.
It may take a hard push to roll that stone: Government is notoriously resistant to change.
20 Tips on How to Start Innovating
1. Create momentum for your innovation project. There must be urgency otherwise innovation is considered playtime and nobody will be prepared to go outside the box. If this is not the case, create urgency and wait until the organization is ready.
2. Manage the expectations of your bosses and the line management before you start an innovation project.
3. It is essential to start your innovation expedition with a clear and concrete assignment. This forces the top management, from the start, to be concrete about the market/target group for which the innovations must be developed and which criteria these new concepts must meet. This forms the guidelines.
4. Use a team approach to get both better results and internal supporters for the innovative outcomes. Invite people for whom the assignment is personally relevant. Invite people for content creation and development as well as decision-making. Also invite a couple of outsiders as outside-the-box thinkers. Get a good mix between men and women, young and old, etc.
5. Let the internal top problem-owner participate in the innovation team.
6. Use a structured approach. Thinking outside the box is a good start. But you have to come back with innovative concepts that fit the in-the-box reality of your organization, otherwise nothing will happen.
7. Great ideas for innovative new products or services fit seven criteria. Use them actively in your project: 1.) Very appealing to customers. 2.) It stands out in the market. 3.) It has great potential for extra turnover. 4.) It has adequate profit potential. 5.) It fits management’s goals. 6.) It is (somehow) considered quickly feasible. 7.) It creates its own internal support.
8. When you brainstorm unprepared with the usual colleagues hardly anything new appears. That’s why it’s essential to get fresh insights before you start creating ideas. Let all team members visit customers and others that serve as a source of inspiration for innovation opportunities
9. Successful new concepts give customers a concrete reason to change. If you want to create innovative products or services, start with discovering relevant customer problems to solve. There are several ways to discover them, like personal visits, focus groups, Web searching and crowd sourcing.
10. Be aware of the fact that a new product idea is not only a “creative product,” but also must comply with the regular business criteria of the organization.
11. In ideation workshops, apply creative think techniques in the most effective way, and monitor all participants and involve them in the process at the same time.
12. Time box. Work with strict deadlines. They help you to get people outside the box and to make choices.
13. Be open to ideas or suggestions from your ideation team to adapt the process.
14. In brainstorming sessions, spend twice as much time on the convergence process as on the divergence process.
15. Allow people to choose which innovation opportunity, idea, concept board or mini new business case they want to work on. This way they can choose not only the project they have a passion for but also the one they have knowledge of, which will lead to good results.
16. Hire visualizers, cartoonists or make a movie to visualize your ideation process and the results.
17. Keep the pace of your innovation process going; otherwise it becomes long-winded and boring.
18. How attractive are the new product or service concepts really? That’s a legitimate question. Therefore you should reflect on the concepts immediately. And you should check the strength of the ideated new concepts among potential customers. Use the voice of the customer internally.
19. Return with mini new business cases instead of Post-its or mood boards. And substantiate, in a businesslike and convincing manner, to what degree and for what reason the new concept can meet decision-makers’ criteria.
20. Make use of the specific expertise of others from within the organization as much as you can in an early phase.
Published with the permission of Gijs van Wulfen, LinkedIn thought leader on innovation and founder of the FORTH Innovation method. Van Wulfen also is the author of The Innovation Expedition.
A seasoned journalist with 20+ years' experience, Adam Stone covers education, technology, government and the military, along with diverse other topics. His work has appeared in dozens of general and niche publications nationwide.