Harry West is a former MIT prof who is now CEO of Continuum, a Boston-based design and innovation company. (If you’ve used a Swiffer or pushed a new Target shopping cart, you’ve encountered Continuum designs.)
In a recent blog post for the Harvard Business Review, he offers some new thoughts on how to get your team to innovate faster and more effectively. At Continuum, he writes, “We are always looking for ways to innovate how we innovate.”
West identifies three refinements that are making a difference at Continuum: actively managing creative friction, making project rooms the focal point of the work environment, and putting as much creativity into commercialization as you did into conceptualization. “Follow these rules,” he predicts, “and you’ll see a dramatic difference in your own team’s ability to innovate.”
1. Manage Creative Friction
Friction is a double-edged sword: it can stimulate new ideas, or discourage collaboration and ideation. West offers three ways to encourage positive creative friction:
Share the experience. The whole team must share the entire innovation experience. Bringing consumers into the mix provides an additional bonding experience “that gives the team a common sense of purpose.”
Remove communication barriers. Help people understand their different communication styles, and you can turn a source of friction into closer collaboration.
Have at it. “Lock yourselves in the project room and engage in a passionate debate,” says West. “The magic in innovation is to combine perception with analysis. Few people can do this alone.”
2. Bring Creativity to the Centre
West suggests using a dedicated “project room” where your innovation team can work, from conception to execution. It should be an attractive place to work, but also well connected to the rest of the company. “Glass doors and big internal windows enable more people to see what is going on, comment on it, add to it, and appreciate it.”
Innovation is so important to Continuum that the company converted West’s own spacious, central office into a project room.
3. Stand for Delivery
Recognize that one of the biggest barriers to successful new products and services is the transition from the innovation team to the commercialization team. “Design teams with this handoff in mind,” says West. “Make sure that there is an extended team of stakeholders who have responsibility for the entire innovation process. And make sure there is at least one person from the commercialization team who starts off in the ideation team.”
To innovate well, West concludes, “teams must be permeable, inviting the outside in and engaging the broader community to transform an idea on a napkin into a new product or service in the marketplace.”