The Virtuous Cycle of Innovative Thinking
For anyone that’s worked with Entuitive before, you’ll already be aware that an innovative mindset is part of the Entuitive DNA. We were founded on the principle of offering a new kind of engineering service, and we strive to constantly redefine what it means to offer Uncompromising Performance to our clients. This article will provide context into how Entuitive has grown to this point and what our future trajectory looks like. For those interested in innovating within their own firms, this might also offer some strategies to help you get there.
For any readers who would like to learn more about the concepts described below, we encourage you to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. In our pursuit to make this industry better, we recognize that we need collective, productive action towards progress. We are happy to support our industry partners in their desire to reinvent themselves – or to just try something new.
Innovative Thinking in Its Natural, Unprompted Form
Entuitive is a naturally innovative firm. The company was founded with a commitment to resisting the status quo – we actively avoid the phrase, “That’s the way we’ve always done things.” Entuitive attracts disruptive thinkers and gives them the freedom to identify and implement new ideas and processes.
When our staff encounter roadblocks, rather than throwing their hands up in frustration, they dive into the details and try to redefine the approach. Our teams are quick to identify our clients’ pain points and new opportunities within the industry. We are eager to make the necessary investments to create new services and add value.
This is what we would call informal innovation. It doesn’t follow a particular framework and is simply the product of a culture of innovation within Entuitive.
Spurring Innovative Thinking Through Formalized Initiatives
While there are many instances of informal innovation at Entuitive, there are challenges with this approach. For this reason, we go to great lengths to encourage and support innovative thinking through a framework called Ennovation. It represents the firm’s commitment to continuous advancement and is a key strategic enabler at Entuitive.
We have found that by leveraging Ennovation we can help overcome the innovation barriers that exist in established companies. Consider the influence of variable time demands on an innovation process. A team may begin working on an innovative idea when their project volume is low. But when their project volume picks up again, they are pulled away. Their idea loses momentum and progress halts. With Ennovation, we can assign an idea champion to monitor progress and alignment with milestones, and supplement resources when required.
Other times, a team or individual wants to pursue an innovative idea , but don’t have assigned hours for prototyping. They feel obliged to spend their personal time building a prototype, leading to exhaustion. Instead, Ennovation helps allot resources to allow staff to test and prototype their concepts.
When trying new things to improve the firm, we embrace the idea of failing forward – running small experiments to prove or disprove our assumptions in as little time as possible. In this context, a failed experiment is equally valuable as a successful experiment. By celebrating failure rather than shaming it, we can establish a culture of productive experimentation that encourages divergent thinking within the organization.
What Does It Look Like to Formalize an Innovation Process?
We have a two-pronged approach to idea generation: our Idea Hopper site, and the annual IMPACT challenge. To learn more about how we formalized this process, read this article.
Ennovation Idea Hopper
The Ennovation Ideas site is our portal for shepherding ideas through the Ennovation process. The idea hopper is always open so employees can submit their ideas whenever inspiration strikes.
We also ask them to use a t-shirt size classification model (see Figure 1 below) to identify the resources required to implement their idea. This gives us an order-of-magnitude assessment into prototyping and implementation needs, so we can more efficiently assess value metrics during the evaluation stage.
Figure 1: T-Shirt Size Classification System.
When someone submits an X-Small or Small idea, for example, the Ennovation Committee will review the idea to provide a quick go-no go assessment and push the idea into the implementation stage. For the larger ideas, the Ennovation Committee reviews the Idea Hopper once per quarter to identify which ideas should advance into prototyping.
Once an idea is approved, an Ennovation idea champion is assigned, and the project is allocated time and resources to quickly experiment with their hypothesis. This initial test is key; it allows us to iterate quickly and see if an idea has legs before funding it to a greater extent and implementing it firmwide.
The funding model at Entuitive is flexible, depending on the idea. Each year, the Ennovation Committee targets at least five ideas to be developed and/or tested. These ideas are allocated a small budget to see if their submission value hypothesis is true, whether we should pursue the idea or if we need to pivot and change direction, or if the idea just isn’t ready to move forward at that time.
Testing ideas quickly, without too much risk, is the best way to learn more about your customers, confirm your hypotheses, and drive innovation forward.
IMPACT Annual Idea Challenges
In addition to the Idea Hopper, Entuitive hosts annual idea challenges to activate the firm’s most creative minds. These challenges encourage employees to think of new ideas that create value through one of our three predefined value drivers – Revenue Growth, Cost Efficiencies, and Social / Community Value (see Figure 2 below).
Figure 2: Innovation Value Drivers at Entuitive.
The model for our annual challenges is refined each year as we collect lessons learned and identify how to better spur disruptive ideation and brainstorming. This year, for IMPACT2022, we’re encouraging our employees to think of Revenue Generating ideas.
Employees assemble into teams and submit their ideas during the month of June. Three teams will be shortlisted out of the initial submission pool. From there, each shortlisted team is allocated time and resources to develop their prototypes and business models over a 90-day sprint period.
After this sprint, each shortlisted team attends Entuitive’s Fall Corporate Meeting and pitches their idea to all Entuitive shareholders. The shareholders then select one final winning idea, which is provided further resources for firm-wide implementation in 2023.
Along the way, there are many prizes to be won by those employees who put up their hand with suggestions for new ideas and operating models. This can take the form of cash rewards or the equivalent value of time off.
Our Ennovation Committee also provides teams with educational resources tailored to new venture creation. For example, each shortlisted team goes through a half-day workshop with innovation consultant Output to define their Minimum Viable Product and map out their user groups and prototyping model.
Through these combined incentives and education pathways, we can jointly foster innovative growth for today’s business, while producing innovative leaders to guide the firm into its next stage of growth.
For Those Firms Trying to Be Innovative, Here Are Our Takeaways
It’s important to socialize innovation with your firm – don’t just provide the infrastructure. Once you’ve made a space for innovation, actively promote it with your people. Hold workshops with your leaders. Hold regular ideation sessions with your staff. The only way to get your people excited about innovation is by living it every day. Try new things, know why you are trying them, and know how you will be able to tell if they’re working.
When it comes to innovation, meet your people where they are. For Entuitive, we recognize that engineers are taught to be cautious. This can both serve us and hinder us in fostering and practicing creative and innovative thinking. For those who have a strategy for innovation and a means of implementing it, we remain on the sidelines as a support system. For those staff who need extra prompting, we offer specific programming to encourage divergent thinking that supports the growth of their new ideas.
Finally, try to have fun with it. Creative experimentation can only happen when people feel psychologically safe. When staff feel excessive pressure to meet results, they tend to act in a conservative manner. Encourage a culture of experimentation and outside-the-box thinking. Additionally, be mindful not to reject new ideas based on them differing from your standard operating model. Even if the idea itself isn’t a winner, it may highlight a new perspective that lays the groundwork for truly innovative performance.