Everyone an Innovator: Should We Even Want That, and How To Do It?

Expert: Ricardo dos SantosCurator: Andy Cars

Ricardo dos Santos is the creator of Collective Entrepreneurship, a practice combining crowdsourcing with the power of self-forming teams to discover, network & accelerate breakthrough ideas.

01 // What are examples of employee innovation programs?

02 // Is innovation everyone’s job?

03 // How does this idea that innovation is everyone’s job play out in the different types of innovation?

// Summary

While most now know that innovation isn’t simply about brainstorming and beanbags, big corporations and startups still struggle to understand the structural changes necessary for fostering creativity.

Even as some companies hire Chief Innovation Officers and create dedicated innovation teams to crack the code, Ricardo dos Santos believes that a democratic, distributed approach works best.

He sat down with Andy Cars to explore the idea of hiring for innovation, tracing an idea’s trajectory and embedding opportunities for new ideas within your company’s structure and hierarchy.

Open up the innovation job pool

Innovation shouldn’t be everyone’s job, says Ricardo, it shouldn’t be yet another criteria on performance reviews or abstract requirement on a job description. Innovation should be everyone’s opportunity. As a starting point, every company should assume that there’s a wealth of untapped potential within their existing team. The challenge: to invite and leverage innovative ideas with that in mind.

Shift from i to I

Companies benefit most from having many minds and backgrounds thinking creatively, says Ricardo. Rather than “small i” improvements or insights that can be easily framed and assigned to a specific person or department, “big I” innovation lets companies look for entirely new ideas, verticals or products that could stem from any corner of the organization.

Attracting those ideas requires a shift away from a traditional R&D model, where people are brought in to work on specific projects or innovation sprints. Instead, the entrepreneurial model encourages anyone who shows up with ideas and the willingness to work to experiment and take the lead.

Follow the idea’s journey

Beyond inviting everyone to the innovation table, Ricardo believes it’s essential for a company’s structure to create opportunities for employees to develop new projects part-time or seek out contextual, tailored training in practices like prototyping, experimentation, research and feedback analysis. To evaluate whether your current structure encourages new ideas ask:

  • How would an idea make it through this company?
  • Would your employees know who to pitch?
  • Would they be able to reach out to other departments to test and experiment?
  • Would they need to go through several hierarchical layers of approval before exploring the potential of their idea?
  • Could they count on getting the time, trust and resources to follow through?

Distributed innovation

Ricardo recognizes that one of the problems in terms of creating opportunities is that companies are still siloed off. To break through the siloes, people need to be connected by an “entrepreneurial fabric” that allows for a more distributed process in exploring, approving and financing new ideas. This, for example, may mean allocating smaller R&D “seed funds” within the company.

That way more people will regularly have conversations with somebody they know who is accessible, who has agency to get things moving and who might be better at recognizing the behaviour of internal innovators and leaders.

“Creativity is sort of an innate human right, and no one has the authority to take that away. If we wish to act out on our creative impulses, at worst a company should get out of the way, and at best it should help… You can’t say that innovation is distracting to anyone.”