Three Phases of Embedding Innovation

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Three Phases of Embedding InnovationFailure is real and should be feared. Ironically, fear of failure is the most potent saboteur. This is a fact proven time and time again in the world of innovation.

Many expensive and time-consuming efforts to build innovation capability and capacity inside of organizations fail for a few simple reasons. Either they import a framework completely from the outside without attuning it to their practices and the culture and internal systems reject it or an anxiety to “get it right” leads to years of benchmarking, planning, and the formation of the governance of innovation without actually doing the work—and the work is simple: create net new value.

These common traps prevent real innovation from taking root. After seeing them confound 1000s of top-performing professionals at too many Fortune 1000 and Mid-Market companies and leading non-profits, we have developed an approachable language and timeline to apply innovation pragmatically.

This simple framework helps make sense of (the somewhat odd) transformation and the stages of innovation maturation you can expect.

I’ll highlight the three stages of successfully embedding innovation briefly. We’ve seen this formula work in consumer health care, durable goods, non-profit donor relations, municipal programs, manufacturing, consumer goods, software, and services.

Learning Phase: One to Two Years

During the learning phase leadership needs to let the rest of the organization that they formally endorse a time period to explore how different innovation methods can bring value to their organization. Experiment to see which methods offer the richest insights and new areas of growth.

Define the scope of this phase:  the budget, and amount of time professionals can devote to this phase in advance. Then, they need to try a mix of training sessions: customer mapping, hack-a-thons on particular vexing problems, workshops, bootcamps on various innovation methods (and there are many: Design Thinking, Jobs to Be Done, Wicked Problem Solving, SIT, Doblin 10 Types, and endless variations), tools, and exercises. As well, a few full project cycles need to be completed at this phase.

You never can predict which methods and tools will work best inside of a culture; therefore, giving a set period of time to learn how your organization can best create value is a critical, and often missing, piece of this rush to innovate.

Immersion Phase: 18 months to three years

At this phase the organization has set practices, metrics, and behaviors for doing innovation. They are launching innovations. Most important, Innovation is formally defined and communicated, the Innovation Strategy is set, and there are planned roadshows, projects, and people in place to immerse the culture in the methods and mindsets that work for the culture. Many processes get revised under the ardor of innovation.

Embedment Phase: Ongoing

At this point in the maturation cycle emerging leaders in each department should be both modeling and managing innovation each day as an integral part of their jobs.

Hope you find this primer helpful. The main point: Innovation can drive value unlike any other lever. Allow time and space to learn what works for your organization.

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Michael GraberMichael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit to learn more.