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Necessity is the mother of innovation – and success is its enemy.

To innovate, we need to make time and create the right environment.

Successful people act with intent

Intent has two meanings

  1. A vague plan – as in ‘oh, I meant to do that’
  2. A determination to act

Successful people actively interact and engage in innovation. Do you know the saying “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”? From the outside innovation looks effortless, but it’s much more than generating excellent ideas.

So, don’t set up brainstorming sessions until you have a goal and a plan.

Successful innovators organise their activities

If you dabble, innovation will go wrong. Failure can be catastrophic but is more likely to merely disappoint. Have you worked hard to change a process, introduce digital technology or adapt a new culture just to find nothing ever changes?

Four steps to business innovation

Many people write about product and service innovation, but the way we run our businesses is as important as the things we sell. Successful innovation will delight your customers, engage your team and save money.


Throw a pebble in the Internet pond and you will hit people, posts and articles talking about business vision. So, I will not say much.
For me, vision creation should be:

  • Collaborative – people need to be part of the creation to feel ownership
  • Repeated – your business vision can’t be static, or you will be left behind by innovative competitors and growing customer expectations.
  • Tested – visions should challenge us to grow and deliver benefits.


Who do you need to turn your idea into reality AND who does it affect? Engage with these people and ask them to design your new ways of working. Be Goldilocks with your scope. Overwide and you won’t achieve it; too narrow and you bake in problems. To get it just right, test against your vision. If part of the solution doesn’t contribute to the vision, you have three options:

  1. Take it out of scope for now
  2. Take it out of scope and forget it
  3. Agree to change the vision (for example, you might say your vision is to remove non-value-adding activities if the benefits outweigh the costs)

Design must cover the whole of your new business model; for example, organisation impact, integration with legacy systems and the interfaces with the supply chain and customers.

Use tried and tested tools to catch everything. I use swim lanes to understand interactions and SIPOC to think through the suppliers, inputs, process, outputs and customers, then I add who, what, how to describe each process step.

There are many tools, just be creative, organised and inclusive.


If you read plan and thought ‘Gantt chart’, we need to have a chat. Planning is much more than scheduling. It is another design task, this time you are designing your change.

My favourite planning tools are:

  • Work Breakdown Structure – a visual method that ensures completeness; often supplemented with statements of work – descriptions of each task
  • Network diagram – seeing how everything fits together
  • RAID log – capturing Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies, agreeing actions and getting them done. If your experience of RAID is do once and forget, see the comment on planning vs scheduling above.
  • Engagement plan – identifying whose contribution and support you need and how to engage them


Just like that, honestly. Everyone knows what their deliverables and deadlines.

The key to delivery is inclusivity. Support everyone working on your innovation and affected by it. Whether you want to release changes in small chunks (Agile) or big phases (Waterfall) depends on your culture and your innovation.

When you think you have finished, check the benefits? If they are rolling in, handover ownership, closeout and celebrate. If you haven’t achieved what you expected, then work out what has happened and why the outcome hasn’t met expectations.

I’ll be bold here and say you will find the problem in your vision, scope, design or one of the four project tools I mentioned earlier. And, yes, monitoring benefits as you go along saves much wasted time, money and energy.


To paraphrase the marvellous Douglas Adams, business innovation is a tetralogy of five parts. The periods between significant change should be a period of stability, reflection and continuous improvement. Engage with your team, customers and suppliers to make the most of your investment.

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