How to Create an Innovation Team that Actually Innovates

September 8, 2017

Innovation \ ˌi-nə-ˈvā-shən \ noun : the introduction of something new (e.g. an idea, method, or device).

Over the last 30 years, the airline industry has adapted through consolidation and the popularity of low-cost carriers (LCCs). Simultaneously, the growth of technology in day-to-day society has led to countless new innovations disrupting the status quo around the world. However, despite the changes to the Airline industry and according to an Accenture report from 2016, "Most airlines believe the airline industry lags other industries when it comes to digital innovation".

This is a problem. How do airlines become innovation leaders rather than reacting to disruptive technologies? How do airlines create an innovation team that actually innovates?

Here are 3 lessons from our team:

  1. Failure is Necessary for True Innovation: In the Venture Capital industry, 80% - 90% of companies fail. This is the norm. Employing a system where it is OKAY to fail, but learning from failure is necessary for true innovation. Costco, AirBnB and FedEx were all failures at one point. They learned from their mistakes - change the business, focus on the people who matter most, and make calculated risks on new products - in order to succeed today.
  2. Less is Always More: There are stories of technology startups on the brink of failure - resource constrained - with limited time left. It is these stories that remind us of the quote by Carl von Clausewitz, "Two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead". To innovate, a team must use limited resources to make it work, optimizing for speed and data. Once it works, then you make it scalable. Finally, you make it beautiful.
  3. Roadblocks Kill Innovation: Lengthy RFP processes, detailed business cases, budgeting hurdles etc. - All of these are roadblocks that prevent healthy innovation. To avoid these roadblocks, set strict deadlines and move quickly, focus on the high level opportunity and key testing criteria, and provide innovating teams with real budgeting power.

In addition to the lessons learned by us, remember the agile manifesto:

  • Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools
  • Working Software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer Collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to Change over following a plan

When you think of your team - is this you? Is agile a reality or just an aspiration?