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Navigating Three Challenges of Learning Innovation

Tuesday, September 17, 2019
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It’s no surprise that innovation is a hot topic in the learning space. With new technologies, methodologies, platforms, processes, and players entering the marketplace every day, disruption is everywhere. Learning organizations can’t adequately address these issues with today’s approaches—much less yesterday’s—so innovation has become a necessary element to build into business for learning organizations to strategically move forward.

Research from CLO indicates that staying on top of these trends is a top priority for corporations, but it’s also the initiative learning organizations are least prepared to take. A couple of years ago, GP Strategies developed Innovation Kitchen and the 5-Step Innovation Processes to help our clients address the complexities and harness the opportunities hidden within the disruption.

Rather than attacking innovation at the point of execution of a mission-critical initiative in your organization, we recommend forming a separate, ongoing conversation around its elements. Create a conversation that takes place outside of the pressures, emotion, and immediate needs of a specific initiative—one that nurtures ongoing discovery, explores what is possible based on existing and emerging trends, experiments with tactics and approaches, and builds a knowledge base around what is possible and what your organization can leverage to address any given initiative that may arise.

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Even if you can’t form your own Innovation Kitchen staffed with industry experts, you can build a sustainable approach to incorporating innovation into your initiatives that your organization can support at some level, on any budget. Here are some of the challenges to look out for:

  • How are you going to fund your innovation effort? We suggest a right-sized approach. Whether you assemble a large cross-functional team focused on the mission, hire a couple of dedicated experts, or allocate one person from within who works on it on a part-time basis, you will be better prepared to respond from a place of strength rather than just reacting to the crisis du jour. It’s not the size of the innovation exploration that matters. In fact, you don’t even have to originate all the innovation yourself since you can harvest it from other internal initiatives or curate knowledge from outside resources. What matters is that you objectively explore innovative approaches.
  • Move from the art of the possible to the business of the viable. Is your innovation going to yield the needed business results? Will it help you do things better, faster, or cheaper? We recommend a rapid prototyping approach. We have prototyped solutions for a few thousand dollars in the space of a few weeks. When you take a time-bound approach, the project doesn’t linger and utilize excess resources. It’s also important to understand that not every idea is going to produce revolutionary results. Sometimes your results will be evolutionary, offering lessons learned or incremental results over time.
  • Buy-in and ability to scale. How do you grow your innovation initiative and get stakeholder buy in? We group these together because the key to innovation initiative success is communication—promoting, publishing, and sharing your progress and conclusions. As your initiative progresses, you want people to know what you’re doing. It begins by letting your entire organization know that the initiative exists, it includes regular progress reports and/or relevant findings, and it climaxes with sharing any execution that results. The more interest you generate and value you demonstrate, the more resources you’ll be able to justify to grow your initiative. And the more positive attention you bring to the initiative, the more stakeholder buy-in you’ll receive.

Innovation seems like a tall order. “You’d better be brilliant or else!” But it’s really about researching and understanding what is possible so that when the moment comes to architecting a solution, you’ll have one foot in brilliance and another in expertise.

For more information, examples and resources, visit our Innovation Kitchen.

About the Author

As the vice president of learning strategies and solutions at GP Strategies, Matt Donovan brings more than 25 years of experience crafting training and development solutions with a focus on performance-driven learning. He has led the production of hundreds of custom online courses for Fortune 500 companies, many of which employ a scenario-based approach focusing on reinforcing authentic work practice. Matt received an M.S. in instructional systems technology from Indiana University and his work has been published several learning industry publications.

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