How to make innovation events work

A couple of months ago, a colleague from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) wrote a blog post called 5 things that are not innovation.

It’s a provocative and well-written article and I agree with every aspect he covers.

Too many organizations ‘do’ innovation in a way that just does not deliver value to the organization.

From all the aspects that Raphael mentions, I’d like to dive in on one that leaves too many people disappointed with the results.

But let’s get real: hackathons rarely result in a functioning solution after 24h of mad coding. Most of the time, you’ll get a good pitch for a concept out of it. If the concepts you get at the end of a hackathon do not go further into implementation, then what did you get?

Probably not more than,

Some PR and some excited participants who will eventually be deflated by the fact their work went nowhere.

If you’re not delivering value to the organization, then you’re not innovating. Period.

So, do innovation events work?

Are they going to deliver the next million/billion-dollar product for your company?

Probably not.

Can they start shaping the beginnings of your next million/billion-dollar idea?

Yes. But there’s a big commitment to be made to actually deliver it. Otherwise, it all goes to waste.

Are they going to change your organization?

Yes. They actually can.

Here’s to the crazy ones…

Innovation should not be possible for only a restricted few, ‘crazy ones’. Innovation is about tools, techniques, frameworks and mindsets, but above all else it’s about people coming together.

Innovation is a team sport.

The crazy ones? They work in the ‘Labs’, the ‘Incubators’ and other places we give cool and mysterious names to.

For every 5-10 people working on the long view game, there’s usually 5,000 working solely on running operations. If that’s the case, innovation efforts will be slow and painful, and you’ll be lucky to remain competitive in the long run.

There just aren’t enough people playing the ‘innovation game’.

Developing capabilities and breaking silos

The thing I like most about innovation events is that they are the public school after the industrial revolution. They are a way of giving more people in the organization access to the same tools and thought processes that deliver new ideas to drive an organization forward.

Innovation events bring people from different areas together and, for a couple of days, the participants’ only focus is to develop something new that can provide value to the organization.

People will actually stop. They’ll think about the future instead of head down coding or working, spend time actually understanding the customer, share knowledge, create networks inside the organization and, if you’re focusing on the right thing, they will end up with something to show for it all.

Once a mind is stretched it will not go back to the same place.

The participants now know innovation is possible and — more importantly — how to do it. Even more than that, you’ve just made your first step in bridging the gap between the ‘crazy ones’ and the rest of the organization.

In summary, innovation events not only help to deliver value, they also allow you to upscale the skills and capabilities of your employees and to break down silos by encouraging collaboration. This is how you start building a culture of innovation. By empowering people and giving them a place to try new things.

How do you make innovation events work for you?

Through our experience of working on innovation events, we always search for a commitment from the business to place a team, full-time, to develop the best ideas that emerge from the event. The idea-to-market process should take no more than 90 days. By framing it this way, we ensure that the organization understands that ideas need to go beyond the innovation event and get into the hands of customers.

During the events, we make sure participants are focused on solving for a customer/user problem and that they have access to that customer or user. We also make time for structured feedback throughout the event. By being deliberate about driving real results and getting the business commitment behind the best ideas, you’ll end up with really valuable innovation events.

I’m a huge believer in innovation events, mainly because I’ve seen them work time and time again, but remember – getting innovation to work goes way deeper than saying ‘let’s run an event’ and that… that’s a topic for another day.

Related Content