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Case study

Graduate innovation workshop for a national retailer

We designed and facilitated a one-day workshop to help graduates understand the best tools and approaches for innovation.

The brief

Our client wanted to give a group of graduates an overview of the challenges of innovation in corporate life, and to help them understand some useful approaches to maintain a high level of focus on innovation in their work. Innovation is the lifeblood of business.

Without innovation, a business becomes stale, outdated and irrelevant to consumers. Businesses must keep a constant focus on innovating product, service and operations in order to grow and outperform competitors.

There are a number of blockers common to big businesses:

  • Patterns: the natural human tendency to form patterns and stereotypes can stop us from coming up with original new ideas that break normal convention
  • Risk & failure: the desire to avoid failure at all costs can prevent individuals and companies from taking the necessary risks to create new innovations. All new ideas are risky to some extent – but without them we have no chance of surviving and growing.
  • Comfort zones: related to risk & failure, we should be wary of the temptation of comfort zones – the tendency to stick to what we already know or are already good at.
  • Layers: most large corporations have significant levels of hierarchy, which slow innovation as each layer goes through its own approval process. These layers often find it easier to say no than yes.
  • Rules & traditions: Traditions often block new thinking because people are reluctant to change from what they already do, and have done for years. But when something has always been done the same way it’s worth asking if there’s an alternative.
  • Agendas: Some individuals may seek to protect their own position in the company by shutting down anything that puts them at risk.

What we did

Our workshop began by outlining why innovation is so important, and giving a brief overview of the various types of innovation, such as incremental and radical innovation, process innovations and service Innovations.

We then looked at where innovation comes from, including an overview of the creative thinking process. We outlined some definitions from the book “The Innovator’s DNA” (see sidebar).

We then discussed some common opportunities for innovation, including customer journey mapping, looking at extreme / power users, and examining frustrations and desire paths. Participants were asked to choose an approach and try applying it to the company’s products and services.

Similarly, we looked at some more sources of innovation, including competitors, similar industries, and different markets & countries.

After a lively group discussion participants chose an approach to try working on in more depth.

We then introduced three briefs specific to the client’s business, inviting participants to “disrupt themselves” by coming up with radical innovations to tackle real problems relevant to the company.

The results

We closed the workshop by helping participants create plans for making it happen: defining an approach they would take personally to focus on innovation in their roles going forward.

We provided a summary of the workshop’s content and recommendations, plus an innovation toolkit to each participant.

“I just had a catch up with one of the grads who I am coaching and he described the Innovation section of the program as the best part so far. The activities genuinely helped them think in different ways. One participant described himself as “not very creative” but went on to say that he was able to generate some ideas. Probably the main piece of feedback is that the participants are really revved up for the Innovation challenge and using the techniques you taught them to tackle it.”

The Innovator’s DNA

The authors of The Innovator’s DNA interviewed 25 top businessmen including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos & P&G’s AG Lafley, as well as 3000 executives with responsibility for innovation.

The results of this research provides a useful rundown of the necessary skills for innovating within organisations:

  • Associating: synthesizing and connecting
  • Questioning: challenging the status quo
  • Observing: watching and noticing
  • Networking: finding ideas, seeking viewpoints
  • Experimenting: trying and piloting new ideas

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