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6 Ways to Cultivate the “Human Element” of Innovation

6 Ways to Cultivate the “Human Element” of Innovation

Successful innovation starts with curious, creative people who see opportunity in solving problems with new ideas. They possess the ability to execute the plan(s) that commercialize and monetize groundbreaking, problem-solving concepts. They also channel their passion for invention towards convincing the marketplace that innovative solutions solve both the immediate problems of today and the potential problems of tomorrow.

Developing The “People Side” of Innovation

Large dollars are invested in many types of innovation, from R&D to technology to service, yet how many companies take the time and effort to develop the people-side of innovation? Not many. Why? It’s likely because company leadership does not see the value in developing the people-side.

The people-side of innovation is not new, but current and future-oriented leaders can learn how best to involve people – employees, customers, stakeholders (shareholders and others), strategic partners and social media followers – when pursuing and commercializing products and services. By people, I mean. These are the “constituents” who comprise innovation’s value chain today; they serve as every innovation-focused organization’s starting point.

Lead Them Into a “Mental Gym”

Nearly every company is capable of recruiting, training and developing creative people. What is needed for this to occur is the type of leadership that allows employees to flex their collective creative muscle when it comes to producing problem-solving solutions. When that leadership is in place, the company is in a position to recruit, train and develop innovative leaders from the rank and file. Those leaders will assemble and manage a company full of resourceful teams of rank and file employees, and those teams will produce a roster full of original products and services that consumers will buy.

“Plain Vanilla” Leaders Won’t Cut It

This cannot be accomplished with plain vanilla leadership. It takes leadership with the courage to create and manage innovative organizations. This type of courage-based leadership requires an understanding of how engagement drives creativity as well as an appreciation of how originality is imbued in an organization’s culture.

Understand The Competitive Landscape

Anyone who reads Business in the Heart of Florida, and this column, understands the importance of being innovative. In a knowledge economy, small insights and advances can quickly shift an industry and a company’s competitive landscape. It is widely recognized that skill sets, capabilities and talents can be bought, borrowed or built. Quickly. That’s why, to succeed in this new world order leaders must be able to guide a dynamic, fast-paced organization with the intent of galloping away from the pack into fields brimming with opportunity. That’s important because those opportunities, whether domestic or global, represent the possibility of unbridled growth. However, many organizations find it difficult to engage their “constituents” in the innovation value chain. Given this is so often the case, where do these organizations start?

Get to Know Them

Innovation involves processes, and with processes come people. Creative types might rebel against structure and process, but most creativity occurs because structures are in place in which people can be creative. But make no mistake, innovation is about people because processes don’t innovate. People do.

That’s because people-centered innovation harnesses creative problem solving, confidence and the pursuit of opportunity. Innovation will usually mean involving science and technology to solve demonstrable problems; invention will bring products and services that fulfill what the marketplace needs. It will respond to shifts in desires and changing tastes. All the while, people-centered innovation reflects empathy and plays a critical role in interpreting how and why the process of innovation benefits all of those involved.

People-centered innovation reflects empathy and plays a critical role in interpreting how and why the process of innovation benefits all of those involved.

Unleash Their Creative Confidence

See Also

This brings us to a book I’ve read and recommend. “Creative Confidence” was written by Tom and David Kelly and focuses on involving people in the innovation process. In writing the book, the Kelley brothers provide readers with a guide on how to unleash the creative potential within us all. They give innovation a face — even a personality — that describes how individuals and the teams they work with fuel invention inside the organizations that encourage such activities.

I think the Kelleys had the Greek intellect Archimedes in mind (“Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough and I can move the world.”) when framing the book’s thesis.  That is, all game-changing accomplishments are human-powered. All people need is to be given a lever, or be allowed to exercise their own lever, and combine that “tool” with energy, support and permission (to fail). When that occurs, a nearly unstoppable force — people — creates game-changing advances. That’s why innovative companies — the ones your organization may strive to emulate — recruit, hire, train, manage, motivate and promote the creative people who make it all happen.

It’s no secret that at the best companies, innovation is everyone’s job. If this does not describe your organization, what would you change to brighten your company’s future when it comes to innovation? Where would you begin in creating or enhancing a culture of innovation in your organization? Who or what would be involved in those first, important steps?

If your answer to the last question is “people,” you are on the fast track to success.

Cultivating Innovative Employees

  1. Develop “People Side” of Innovation
  2. Lead Them Into “Mental Gym”
  3. “Plain Vanilla” Leaders Won’t Cut It
  4. Understand Competitive Landscape
  5. Get to Know Them
  6. Unleash Creative Confidence

David Whitney serves as the Entrepreneur in Residence in the University of Florida’s College of Engineering.  Whitney teaches a course, Engineering Innovation, to both undergraduate and graduate students at UF. In addition to his university activities, Whitney is the founding Managing Director of Energent Ventures, a Gainesville-based investor in innovation-driven companies.


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