Human factors of innovation.

Authors: Ana Simar from Happytivity & Natalia Ramirez Ph.D. in Management Sciences.

Human factors of innovation.

What do we understand as innovation.

For the purpose of this text, we will refer to this meaning of innovation: Innovating means introducing something new and original successfully in a given context.

 

To succeed in this vision of innovation, two factors are indispensable:

Novelty and Relevance.

Like any other process, innovation is adapted and developed considering contextual variables like the industry, the background team that affects the process, and even the very concept of innovation that the team has appropriated.

 

The innovation concept usually mentions a creativity process that ends with tangible ideas. However, the term has been mainly overused only to mention the ability to develop new ideas. This misunderstanding in practice could hinder desirable intentions, as each company defines its innovation meaning. Therefore, multiple implications for innovation interpretations exist and interact in industrial, business,  and academic scenarios. Each interpretation results from the central concept considered, adapted and executed.

 

In simple terms, the central concept for innovation is the sum of two components: creativity + commercialisation. However, as the commercial component of the innovation process is often forgotten, good ideas that do not have commercial liability are common in entrepreneurial intentions and companies. Usually, this behaviour leads to undesirable results that force companies and entrepreneurs improvise and fail.

 

A common practice linking ideas with commercial liability involves constant validation points throughout the innovation process. Commonly called experimentation practices, these activities allow creators to confirm or deny the customer’s acceptance. As more experimentation activities are involved in one idea, the better the customer reception is. Consequently, a more consistent innovation process is possible if we constantly adopt ideation and experimentation activities.

 

Most of the time, innovation and creativity are linked as team activities rather than individual contributions. We have culturally stated that the quality of the innovation process depends mainly on teamwork, cohesion, and diversity. However, innovation results do not just rely on integrative ideas. It is the result of many variables and skills. Variables contextualise the innovation like the type of industry, team backgrounds, the life cycle of the products, etc. On the other side, team members can develop skills regarding the variables to be more efficient. Therefore, not all the methodologies and practices apply to the same context; thus, adaptation is a must when discussing innovation.

To innovate is to introduce something new and original successfully in a given context.

To innovate is to introduce something new and original successfully in a given context.

Collaborative work and individual efforts on innovation.

Considering that innovation requires diverse intellectual resources and the recurrence and iteration of processes, particular team coordination and alignment are mandatory to achieve common goals. Therefore, a collaborative working perspective should be privileged, providing freedom and fluidity of movement along the journey.

 

This section intends to clarify the notion of collaborative work in innovation and propose some elements that can facilitate it.

 

Some of the difficulties encountered in collaborative work are related to the coordination of the tasks and the sometimes questionable productivity of group dynamics. When we speak about collaborative work, there is a general assumption that overall efforts should be framed in a collective dynamic, believing that all team members should be called to create together permanently. Precisely, this belief misunderstands the need for a continuous dynamic between individual progress and group dynamics. All collaborative work needs input from individuals. So yes, collaboration tends to enhance the group’s capacities, as long as a particular commitment exists and each member assumes their responsibilities for the group and the project.

What does collaborative work mean?

  • To work without boss mediation or a hierarchical figure. The work is voluntary and horizontal, requiring listening, communication skills, and proactivity.
  • To stimulate creativity to allow idea generation to solve common problems; implying creative skills development, tolerance to uncertainty, and flexibility of thought.
  • To allow the participation of all members on an equitable and inclusive basis, requiring a broad commitment to assume responsibilities in the development and contribution of content, from individual reflection towards collective convergence and discussion.

What does collaborative work mean?

  • To work without boss mediation or a hierarchical figure. The work is voluntary and horizontal, requiring listening, communication skills, and proactivity.
  • To stimulate creativity to allow idea generation to solve common problems; implying creative skills development, tolerance to uncertainty, and flexibility of thought.
  • To allow the participation of all members on an equitable and inclusive basis, requiring a broad commitment to assume responsibilities in the development and contribution of content, from individual reflection towards collective convergence and discussion.

However, managing the skills and variables represents one of the most severe difficulties for innovation. Team leaders usually think that technical skills are more important than soft skills, but recent studies show that social skills are equal to technical skills. Effective teams focus their attention on individual periods to boost creative-thinking skills and build specific domain knowledge; then they develop periods of collaborative work where creativity and interpersonal skills take their place.

 

The balance between individual and collaborative work is challenging for managers. The number of moments and time in each will represent the innovation process’ adaptation. For instance, as mentioned before, teams generate ideas during collective moments, and individual work is developed to impulse creativity skills. Therefore, we should reconsider that creativity should be just an output. Creativity is simultaneously an output or a result of the collective work and an input developed during individual progress. Both constitute fundamental components of the innovation processes.

 

Collaborative dynamics for innovation should be structured in a combination of individual progress on activities such as gathering information, analysing data, content creation. These periods are the prelude and raw ingredients that nourish the group interactions focused on discussion, data comparison, idea generation, feedback loops, etc.

Innovation, a mix of technique and human factors.

As mentioned earlier, the innovation process requires time to be adapted, developed and executed. To better understand what constitutes these three iterative steps in general, the following are a few valuable recommendations to accelerate the innovation process and, consequently, be more effective. These recommendations will help you integrate and balance the external and internal factors that influence the process.

Boosting the innovation process:

  1. It is essential to understand the industry and the life cycles of the products and services available on the market. Not all industries are the same, so designing and applying an innovation process that responds to external and internal demands is crucial.
  2. Finding the balance between individual and collaborative moments of creativity is essential. It constitutes a key factor for research and development activities that bring long-term growth.
  3. Exploring new ideas is equally crucial as exploiting existing ones.
  4. Increasing the network allows companies and entrepreneurs to create alliances that could support the innovation process in the future.
  5. As validation points with internal and external customers are required, the outcome from these points represents a learning process that is an input for the innovation process, more specifically to the creative moments. 

Boosting the innovation process:

  1. It is essential to understand the industry and the life cycles of the products and services available on the market. Not all industries are the same, so designing and applying an innovation process that responds to external and internal demands is crucial.
  2. Finding the balance between individual and collaborative moments of creativity is essential. It constitutes a key factor for research and development activities that bring long-term growth.
  3. Exploring new ideas is equally crucial as exploiting existing ones.
  4. Increasing the network allows companies and entrepreneurs to create alliances that could support the innovation process in the future.
  5. As validation points with internal and external customers are required, the outcome from these points represents a learning process that is an input for the innovation process, more specifically to the creative moments. 

Maximising chances to succeed with collaborative innovation:

  1. Build a common language within the team.
  2. Strengthen the bonds of trust between team members through recurring group dynamics. 
  3. Have a defined and flexible schedule where individual and collective development times are specified.
  4. Establish together a process for the resolution of possible conflicts within the group.
  5. Establish clear criteria for participation and members’ responsibilities for the project.
  6. Train creative thinking regularly by giving space to develop divergent thinking exercises.

Maximising chances to succeed with collaborative innovation:

  1. Build a common language within the team.
  2. Strengthen the bonds of trust between team members through recurring group dynamics. 
  3. Have a clearly defined and flexible process where individual and collective development times are specified and scheduled.
  4. Establish together a process for the resolution of possible conflicts within the group.
  5. Establish clear criteria for participation and members’ responsibilities for the project.
  6. Train creative thinking regularly by giving space to develop divergent thinking exercises.

To sum up, innovation is an iterative loop that improves itself constantly as the influences that affect it change. The more the process fits the team’s requirements, the more effective it is. It takes time to learn the best way to do it and the one that better suits the company’s requirements or the entrepreneur.

 

In the end, whatever the process or path to do innovation from a technical perspective, one must not lose sight of the level of commitment required in terms of collaborative work and its significant influences on the delivery of high-quality results.

 

With Happytivity’s approach, we help organisations develop capabilities for collaborative work from an innovation and creativity perspective. We focus on values, climate, individual and collective behaviours, processes, tools, and resources required to generate innovation.

Want to learn more about our approach?


Check our Innovation culture programme here.

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