I recently interviewed Sara Husk to hear her views on innovation and setting up processes for innovation within and outside the four walls of a company.



Developing Innovation Systems


One of the things that Sara’s company, Imaginatik, does is help companies develop an innovation system. Innovation overall seems to be maturing. In the past it was more about creative thinking and exploring; now companies are realizing and understanding that innovation needs to become a core competence. One of the things that Sara looks at is how you set that system up successfully. There are several ways to do this:


1. Senior Leadership


What are your senior management individuals doing? Are they visible and championing innovation, meaning setting the metrics, desired outcomes, pace of innovation, etc.? This is a really important part of the system. When we think of a system, an easy one that most people recognize is Six Sigma, which is a competence or system that a lot of companies have put into place. It is really following along in those types of footsteps.


2. Culture and Values


How do culture and values play into this? How do you value, recognize and celebrate collaboration, building out ideas and concepts, moving at a faster pace and tying together all those things that innovation requires? How do you help people make time to innovate?


3. Process and Tools


You must have a sustainable, repeatable, scalable, robust process. You need a strategic direction and pipeline. Where do you want to go and how will we get there? Not everyone has this.


4. Innovation is a Learned Skill


How do you help and skill your people to get the point where they are strong at innovation? Sara and her team at Imaginatik have found that a lot of people in the beginning of innovation believe it is in the minds of a few geniuses or a group in R&D or strategy. On the contrary, it is actually a skill that people can grow over time just like any other proficiency.


Innovation and Supply Chains


The foundational pieces of innovation need to be there even in a supply chain. What might be different in supply chains are the leadership and processes. There is still some resistance to people collaborating with others in their supply chain who are outside their four walls. While there are legal or IP concerns (which are definitely valid and should be looked at), people are becoming much more savvy in terms of how to deal with those types of issues. The leadership can set the tone and pace. Everyone has heard the example of Proctor & Gamble where they decided that a certain amount of innovation would come from outside the company. It is a good example because you can see the good results.


Leaders can decide to work with people in their supply chain and find a way to manage IP and sticky legal issues.  It is easy to say “No” but it is the leader’s job to make sure they push forward.


The process and tools change when you are going outside your four walls because there are different things to think about. Communication is done differently. You need to make sure that everyone outside understands what you are trying to accomplish as well. It is a little more difficult to communicate externally than internally. Your systems need to be set up for things such as how to deal with IP, whose idea is it, etc. You must have an easy way for people in your supply chain to communicate and innovate with you; otherwise they will just walk away.


Sara has seen companies use both a carrot and a stick. How do you recognize those people in your supply chain that are participating with you? How do you put to the side people who are not? Co-innovation can be a requirement for those you want to include in your supply chain.


When you are going outside your four walls you need to think about what your reputation is in the marketplace. Similar to managing a brand you need to decide on how you want to be perceived in the marketplace. You need to make sure you are getting back to people on what happens with their ideas. People need to perceive they are treated fairly when submitting ideas, concepts and proposals. They can potentially go other places and work
with other people. Therefore, it is important to ensure you are communicating in a way that will help external people give you their best ideas. This can potentially turn into a partnership, strategic advantage, etc. This all starts with how you want to be perceived and how you want to communicate externally. There are companies that do this well. They are thinking of these types of questions.


Case Study – The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company


Goodyear was looking for ways to take advantage of existing technical knowledge and to research its suppliers. While sharing information with key suppliers isn’t new, there’s a growing sense that the most effective way to address complex technical challenges is by actively encouraging collaborative innovation within the supply chain. It’s an idea that has taken firm hold within The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. Goodyear is working
with suppliers to create practices that keep them plugged in, to ensure that the best ideas get realized. You can read more by visiting this link.





Sara has seen that as people gain more experience and get better at innovation, they do become more open with their supply chain. It is important for everyone to consider establishing innovation processes. It is becoming easier and the barriers are becoming lowered because other groups are now doing it. If you are not doing it, you will be left behind. What people have been missing is innovation as a process. Innovation is sustainable and repeatable. There are processes involved and the outcomes are always interesting. Even with ideas or concepts that are not workable, you can get everything aligned so that you will get those ideas that will help solve issues. People need to understand the process around getting ideas. That is what the fundamental process is all about.



About Sara Husk


Sara Husk is an operations and project executive with a broad range of experience.  Sara’s experience includes, innovation business process development and execution, innovation software expertise, open innovation, operations management, Six Sigma, project management and account management.


About Imaginatik


Imaginatik provides Collective Intelligence and Idea Management solutions. Imaginatik provides Innovation-as-a-Service - working in each engagement to achieve measurable business results while building a culture of innovation. Through the right mix of best-practice advice, program management expertise, and award-winning software tools, it helps clients reach their full innovation potential. Imaginatik is the trusted innovation partner for clients such as Cargill, State Farm, Whirlpool, CSC, Chubb, Chevron,Bombardier, and Goodyear...Visit their website