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The UK Government is in search of the Holy Grail of innovation, it is tinkering with the levers such as location, people, environment, skill sets, intellectual property protection, and innovation incentives, required to optimise innovation in the UK.

The knowledge economy is a thing and the UK needs to be winning at innovation to create a successful and vibrant economy and tackle the issues of our time.

So how and where does innovation happen?

Watson and Crick famously stumbled upon a concept that led to them working out the structure of DNA whilst drinking at the now famous Eagle pub in Cambridge. Sleeping in front of the fire after the pub visit, Watson had a dream of a spiral staircase of intertwined strands of DNA and he realised this might be the key: Serendipity.

Actual face to face meetings can stimulate creativity and spark new ideas in a way that remote meetings cannot. We are animals and we have six senses which work overtime in creative situations: animal instincts, intuition, body language and facial expressions are all key factors. The actual room, building and environment, can all contribute to a more creative and inventive atmosphere.

I am a believer that you cannot arrange to have fun at a certain time but that it happens spontaneously, given the right circumstances.

The same is true of innovation and creativity.

Sure there will always be a place for virtual meetings but for successful innovation face to face makes for more effective innovation.

Innovation culture

Innovation is nothing without the inventors!

Innovation requires a culture that values and rewards creativity and risk-taking. In order to foster innovation, organisations need to provide an environment where employees are encouraged to think creatively and are given the freedom to experiment and take risks. This means creating a culture that celebrates failure as an opportunity to learn and improve, rather than as a reason to punish or discourage.

Apparently most successful companies have some form of inventor incentive scheme. Apple’s scheme awards $4,000 per patented invention. But it is also about the kudos amongst peers such as public acknowledgements or competitive prizes for the most innovative engineer/team. Microsoft awards stackable “patent cubes” whilst Amazon gives its inventors interlocking acrylic puzzle pieces.

Innovation is a team sport

We like to attribute success to a hero individual but the reality is that invention is often built ‘on the shoulders of others’. Steve Jobs did not invent the iPhone, he was actually against it and had to be persuaded of its benefits by a great team. Evidence then that a great team can often visualise the future better than one visionary individual.

Innovation harvesting

Innovation in isolation is wasteful. Having an efficient process to capture innovation and creativity is as important as the innovation itself. How many innovations go fallow because it was not made in the right environment or there is no one willing to listen to the idea?

Innovation harvesting is a process or technique that develops solutions for key problems and requires experience, the right team and a suitable environment.

Successful innovation harvesting requires:

  • A straightforward invention disclosure process – where ideas can be submitted easily and often.
  • An established and trusted innovation analysis process – simple, easy-to-follow steps to decide whether to patent, trade secret, publish or leave
  • Recognising success for those ideas that are taken forward in such a way to reinforce the process and stimulate new ideas

There is no single silver bullet to stimulate successful innovation but attending to the factors in this article will help create the right environment for innovation to flourish.

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