"We've got Innovation baked into the deal!" sounds great in the board-room and, in fact, innovation features in the vast majority of all new contracts between private and public sector businesses and their technology and business oursourcing partners, but do those businesses really know what they're asking for and would they recognise it if they got it?
In fact, innovation is often quite high on the list of 'must haves' when organisations set out on a lengthy procurement process to find a new business partner, but ask them what they are really looking for and you'll often be met with a 'dazzled in the headlights' stare.
Why is it so hard? Well, it's not really. It's usually a matter of definitions. A quick trawl around Google throws up a huge selection of wide and varied definitions of 'innovation' from as many wide and varied sources. However, the one thing that the clear majority seem to agree on is the word 'new'. By and large, an innovative idea should be about something new but, and here's the easy part, it doesn't actually have to be brand new!
Don't worry if you are full of whizzy, blue sky ideas that no-one could ever create other than you, those ideas will do fine thanks very much. Often, however, an idea based upon something you are already doing for a client in another industry or in a different geography can be just as innovative and fresh to your new customer. In fact, these ideas can often blend a mix of new thinking with a degree of referenceability which, daring and dynamic as your new customers think they are, will often give them the reassurance they will really need if they are going to fund your new ideas and adopt them for their business.
So really, it's not just about the ideas, it's also about how you come up with, develop and communicate those ideas. It's not too hard to create some structure around how you attract both brand new ideas and tweaks to existing products and services, especially if you use the most important resources already at your disposal... your colleagues, staff, customers and business partners. People love being asked for their input. Plus, if there's a chance of their idea becoming a reality, people suddenly become incredibly creative!
Be happy to start small. Organise a competition amongst the teams within your organisation. Offer some prizes to get people moving but, other than that, don't set too many ground rules as they can put people off. Also, don't tell people that they will have an opportunity to pitch their idea straight to the Board! They'll stay away in droves. Instead offer simple templates (problem/solution/benefits) to those that want them. Otherwise accept all ideas in good faith... from two lines on a Post-It to a detailed white paper.
The best ideas are often the simplest and easiest ones to explain!