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A Framework for Innovation

Innovation, as a development within industry, does not occur randomly. Specific elements come together to create a context supportive of inventive thinking. Without people, incentive and resources, innovation would stagnate and flounder.

According to the educational research project "The Four Pillars of Innovation" conducted by the Conference Board of Canada, the factors that create a context for innovation are leadership, people, culture and climate, and structures and processes. Combined, these factors allow innovations and ideas to flourish.

Solid leadership in an organization drives the innovation process forward. Leaders make sure there is open communication between departments and employees and generate enthusiasm for a project. While they may not be the original inventor of an idea, they are often the force that ensures an invention makes the journey from concept to product. By allocating resources and providing management skills to projects, they help get innovations off the ground.

Scientist at workThe "people" pillar refers to the human resources available to an organization, their complementary skills and the harmony of their efforts. Effective teamwork, a willingness to collaborate and openness to new ideas create a pool of talent from which an organization can draw strength. Ultimately it is the individuals in an organization that generate new ideas.

Teamwork alone is not enough to ensure innovation is supported. How people interact with each other is influenced by their environment. A country’s political climate can have an effect on innovation. For example, a cash-strapped government may have to be highly selective about what projects they fund. Sensitive issues that are debated in the public arena, such as global warming or acid rain, may also influence the government’s decision about where to invest or whether or not to create policies, such as those supported by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.

A nation as diverse as Canada, with many different nationalities and interest groups coexisting side by side, will have a different environment for innovation than a country where individuals share the more similar backgrounds and experiences. Education also plays an important role. The broader your knowledge, the more areas and resources you will be able to combine to look for connections between technologies and ideas.

A country or organization that supports education will likely produce more innovators and inventors. There is also the workplace climate to consider. Innovative employees thrive in an environment with strong leadership and teamwork. Many companies include within their mission or vision statements a commitment to progress and innovation.

The coordination of these efforts—human resources, leadership and environment—is made easier by certain structures and processes at the organizational level. This is the most practical side of the innovation process. It involves the development of strategies, project plans and policies that support innovation. For instance, an organization that does not have a complicated hierarchy may be in a better position to process and transfer information, simply because there are fewer reporting levels. Likewise, a company’s marketing abilities and their physical resources are also part of the pillar of structures and processes.

All of these supports can be scaled to meet a company’s particular needs. Large and small organizations alike can look to the four pillars when creating a road map for innovation.

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