What’s in an Idea? Innovation via Entrepreneurship & Intrapreneurship
In this month’s virtual Just Ask TCI program, we talked innovation with experts Maria Hernandez, Innovation Technology Executive at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, and Maria Derchi, Miami Campus Director at TheVentureCity.
Maria Hernandez and Maria Derchi shared their personal insights into how to generate ideas, how to quantify them, and how to ultimately implement them into the company.
How Do We Define “Innovation”?
Before getting into our discussion, it’s helpful to have a working definition of “innovation” and what components a business or idea needs in order to be classified as “innovative.” Maria Hernandez shares her perspective.
“The key of innovation is taking ideas from inception. When the idea is born and taken all the way through the proof of concept and hopefully through implementation within the organization, then you’re in. If all you’re doing in innovation is exploring and playing around with technology, then that’s not my definition of innovation. My formula is that you have to tie that idea to the business, then that’s innovation.”
With this definition in mind, our experts weighed in on strategies that can help businesses—small and large—gather, quantify, and implement ideas.
1. Hone in on the Problem You’re Trying to Solve
The first step is to have a concrete idea of what problem or “pain point” you’re setting out to solve. “Don’t focus on the idea for the idea’s sake,” says Maria Derchi. “Think about your customers and ask yourself, ‘What problem are they hiring me to solve? What are their current methods of solving it, and what can I do to improve the system?’”
Both of our experts emphasized the importance of involving the customer in the process. “Get customers on board by explaining to them the impact that X will have,” Derchi says. “The more numbers and technical information you can give them, the better.”
2. Create a Process for “Idea Capture”
Once you know the problem, you can begin the process of what Hernandez calls “idea capture.”
“Once you open up the innovation door in a company of any size,” she says, “you’ll be surprised at how many employees, customers, and other voices say, ‘Oh, I have this great idea!’ So you really have to manage how those ideas are coming in and provide some acknowledgment that those ideas were heard.”
Depending on the size of your company, you may have to tailor your process of idea capture to suit your needs and resources. In a startup environment, you’re almost always in this idea generation phase. “My first boss out of college would leave the company’s quarterly goals on my office door every morning and ask what I’m doing that day to help move toward that,” Derchi says. “That kept me focused on the daily vision and the greater goal.”
Some larger companies might have their own built-in processes. “At DHL Express, we built our own tool,” Herandez shares. “It was a form that anyone could fill out, explaining what the idea is, what it’s
impact would be, and what the success criteria are. Here at Southern Glazer’s, we use a tool called Bright Ideas.”
3. Have a Quantifiable Estimate of Value
Because the key to innovation is implementation, it’s crucial that you’re able to quantify the idea and its impact on the company/customer.
“The value to the business needs to be well-articulated and well-defined,” says Hernandez. “You have to have a quantifiable estimate of value. Have success criteria be a key component of how you evaluate ideas, then come up with a crisp statement in specific numbers. For example, ‘It’s going to save 10% of our X, Y, or Z.”
4. Don’t Shy away from Disruption
Disruption and innovation go hand-in-hand. “If anyone’s going to disrupt your industry,” says Derchi, “It should be you. Constantly look for ways to disrupt. Set up Google alerts for certain keywords that will really keep you in the know if anything comes up about a specific topic in your industry. Then, always go back to the bottom line of your company goals and see how this idea can help move the biggest expense or revenue drivers.”
5. Scale Your Idea
Circling back to our definition of innovation, the last step of the process is to implement and scale your idea.
“Scaling is all about taking that idea that you just spent a lot of time and effort to source and make something with it,” Hernandez says. “Work closely with the business, develop technology, and build a hypothesis as to why this idea is a good one. Then decide which one gets to go to incubation—where you actually test it out. Get the real data that you need to ensure that this is going to work and give the value that you had proposed initially.
“If it does pan out, you move that idea into what I call scale—the idea gets implemented throughout the company.”
Innovation is a process that needs to go through several steps—idea capture, proof of concept, and scaling—in order to be successful. With the right processes, team, and tools in place, a company of any size can successfully take ideas through this process and innovate within the industry.
If you’d like to be a part of our next Just Ask TCI virtual discussion, mark your calendar for the third Friday of every month! This program is free and open to the public and begins promptly at noon, ending promptly at 1:00 p.m. ET.