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Live from FEI 2014: Colin Nelson on Innovation Advocates

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Author's intro: This my third year blogging Colin Nelson's talk at an FEI conference, and I note that his talks combine to provide a helpful how-to series on optimizing breakthrough innovation, creating the requisite culture for sustainable innovation, and getting advocacy for innovation programs.

While one of Hype Innovation's major services is ideation software, Colin Nelson points out that companies need to take the software and run with it in order to capitalize on what it does, and doing so requires that they develop a culture that fosters innovation. While this is the kind of lingo that many companies speak, a lot of them have trouble walking the talk because they are not sure how to define "innovation culture." Instead, Colin suggests that, instead of talking about innovation culture, firms should talk about the behaviors that would enable innovation, and there are four in particular that he cited as crucial:

  • *Give people the ability to share their ideas and insights
  • *Encourage extensive collaboration
  • *Tap into hidden pools of knowledge
  • *Retain all insights, ideas, and concepts

In order to make this happen, though, companies need folks on the ground who can be innovation advocates. These people promote innovation endeavors from front end to back and grease all of the cogs in the process. Here are Colin's suggestions for identifying and developing innovation advocates:

Innovation advocates should be insiders
The best innovation advocates in the company are people who currently have a position within it. They are people who have a stake in the firm and are familiar with its day-to-day operations, and are thus motivated to see innovation happen and know whom to tag when an idea needs to be taken to the next level.

Innovation advocates should exhibit innovation behaviors
There are four key behaviors that advocates should exhibit:

  • *They participate avidly and encourage participation
  • *They create and seek out high-quality content
  • *They make constructive comments
  • *They connect people

Innovation advocates can identify hot topics

Because they connect with people throughout the company and are probably both well-rounded and replete with field-specific expertise, innovation advocates know where to focus innovation efforts and can suggest specific directions for current and upcoming endeavors.

Innovation advocates are cheerleaders
In addition to encouraging participation, advocates can explain to stakeholders how and why the innovation process works, and how each innovation endeavor adds value to the company. They can also spread success stories throughout the company and highlight the ways in which the company is making innovation happen.

Innovation advocates demonstrate good collaborative behaviors
The best bet is to handpick those that consistently demonstrate good collaborative behaviors, namely:

  • *Share ideas and insights when asked
  • *Help to build upon the ideas of others 
  • *Get people to share ideas and viewpoints
  • *Trust the organization and their colleagues (otherwise no one will share ideas!)

Innovation advocates should be trained
When selecting innovation advocates, it is important to explain how and why they have been identified (which highlights and encourages the important behaviors that they exhibit), and then to make sure they understand and buy into the hard and soft objectives of the company's innovation program.

Once the innovation advocates have been selected and trained, their day-to-day processes involve talking about innovation endeavors and encouraging people to share their ideas and efforts. It is also important for advocates to have a community of their own with monthly face-to-face meetings, find opportunities to share experiences and insights, and discuss successes and blockers.

Ultimately, the idea is to leverage the advocate community to spread the innovation culture, which empowers a company not just to be innovative, but to grow and develop into a creative powerhouse.

Orin C. Davis is a positive psychology researcher and organizational consultant who focuses on enabling people to do and be their best.  His consulting work focuses on maximizing human capital and making workplaces great places to work, and his research focuses on self-actualization, flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. Dr. Davis is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and the Chief Science Officer of Self Spark. (@DrOrinDavis)

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