How to build an innovation ecosystem

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Written by Julia Kylliäinen on 3 October 2019 in Features
Features

Looking for tips for innovating in business? Julia Kylliäinen has it covered.

Reading time: 5 minutes.

Successful innovators approach innovation holistically. They understand that to keep their businesses competent, they need to innovate at scale and work on various types of innovations across all parts and levels of the organisation.

However, operating and innovating in a highly complex and ever-changing environment isn’t always easy. Because relying on the traditional, single process and R&D-focused approach to innovation just doesn't cut it anymore, companies need to build flexible but well-organised networks of teams and people.

Instead of solely relying on the skills and insights of a small R&D team, they partner with different groups and focus on building an ecosystem where learning and development is encouraged.

Work together, learn together

Building and managing innovation ecosystems is about creating agile and open environments for innovation to thrive. It’s about fostering active collaboration while making sure each party really sees the value of innovation and ensuring that the ecosystem has coherent structures and incentives to encourage it.

The best innovators understand that no matter how good you are, there’s always room for improvement and you can always find better ways to do what you’re doing. Innovation is, after all, about making better decisions, discovering better solutions and creating more value to keep up with the rapidly changing world.

Although seeking challenges and learning opportunities is a matter of having the right type of mindset, organisational learning should be prioritised, approached strategically and integrated into the company culture to achieve the best possible outcome.

What organisations can learn from universities

Ambitious innovators realise that they don’t always need to do everything themselves and that it makes sense to connect with collaborators who work towards the same direction. Larger variety of skills and experience allows people to learn from one another, which again makes them capable of generating better results.

Higher education institutions are a great example of how to quickly adapt to change and create environments that prepare people for future jobs. Universities and colleges are at the very forefront of innovation as they bring skillful people together and allows them to pursue new interesting ideas together.

” An innovative ecosystem must not only foster interactions but facilitate symbiotic relationships among the various initiatives launched within its environment. This requires an active effort by “collective intelligence catalysts”, entities specialized in bringing together talent from companies, government and universities to think together about innovation opportunities.” – Eric Seulliet

CSU East Bay’s MBA for Global Innovators, is an interesting example of an education programme that teaches global awareness of business opportunities and how to pursue them. It expands the worldview of the global economy and teaches how to respond to dynamic situations as an innovator.

The program emphasises a team approach to learning and integrates core business disciplines with a global perspective and lets people work collaboratively with other talented professionals and entrepreneurs with diverse careers, skill sets and backgrounds.

These types of education programs are something organisations can learn a lot from as these institutions have a systematic approach to innovation and they provide their students and staff with the tools, support and systems they need for exploring new ideas.

Engage with people who share similar vision, values and ambitions

Building a sustainable innovation ecosystem is all about building the right relationships. You want to make sure you’re choosing to hire and collaborate with people who share your goals and values. Because innovation is first and foremost a cultural issue, you want to make sure you’re reflecting your unique values and clearly communicating the purpose and expectations for innovation.

 

However, instead of just hiring people that are copies of one another, enough diversity is crucial for the success of innovations to be able to break away from silo thinking.

You really cannot tell people to do this or that, which is why you need to influence them and create a movement. Only by having clearly communicated goals and values, you have a realistic chance of building an environment in which new ideas are actually coming to life.

Enhance transparency and trust

Sometimes, open collaboration may require a lot of convincing, especially in organisations that aren’t used to openly sharing their ideas. Often, the issue is that there are no clearly defined areas of focus or the environment isn’t safe enough for people to come forward with their thoughts and concerns.

Sometimes, too rigid structures are blocking the flow of information or organisations have a lot of built-in incentives that resist the emergence of new innovations. In some cases, it makes sense for a group to politicise and shoot down the ideas of others to have the best opportunities for promotion and salary increases.

In an innovative and transparent environment, all ideas are welcome. The focus isn’t necessarily too much on the individual idea itself, but on refining it together to make it even better.

When people can rely on the fact that all ideas are valued and that they’re actually being refined and implemented, they are more likely to keep engaging in the continuous process, which again makes the environment stronger and more transparent.

Diversity is crucial for the success of innovations to be able to break away from silo thinking.

To enhance transparency, make sure that anyone even slightly relevant has the chance to show their interest and participate in the innovation process. Take advantage of relevant communication channels to promote the opportunity of engaging in developing new ideas.

Use the right tools

Removing any possible obstacles that might be blocking innovation is easier when you have good support structures around it and the right tools for managing it systematically. The most successful innovators have a dedicated tool for gathering, refining and evaluating concrete ideas.

Although an innovation management tool brings several direct and indirect benefits to your innovation processes and other parts of your business, implementing a dedicated tool only advances your business if the ideas are actually developed and put into practice. Innovation is a continuous process and the right tool helps manage it more effortlessly and effectively in the entire ecosystem.

 

About the author

Julia Kylliäinen is the Marketing Manager at Viima.

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