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How Do You Make an Organization Innovative?

On managing and cultivating innovation and creativity among employees

Published in the Human Resources Magazine,
Issue 271-272, August 2010
By Ari Manor, CEO, ZOOZ

Is innovation one of the core values that your organization needs to cultivate? Do the employees in your organization need to become more creative and innovative? Who do you need to train, and how, for it to happen? And what organizational mechanisms and processes do you need to create to ensure that the employees' creativity will bring substantial benefit to the organization?

This article will attempt to answer these questions and to lead you, step by step, on the path to innovation. My company, ZOOZ, has helped more than 200 organizations to innovate and renew over the past ten years. I hope that the insights we have gained will also help you make your organization more innovative and creative. Let's get started...

Cross-organizational creativity or an all-stars team?

 Who should you train in the organization to make it more creative and innovative? The opinions here are divided, and there are two main approaches, which differ greatly from each other.

The first approach believes in training all the employees (or a large portion of them) in the organization, and on cultivating creativity throughout the organization. This is an HR-focused approach that believes in instilling the value of innovation throughout the entire organization. The foundation of this approach is the belief that every employee in the organization can contribute good ideas that can greatly benefit the organization. And since it is difficult to predict who will be the employee with the "million dollar idea", this approach states that it is best to cultivate all the employees and hope for the best. This is a democratic and non-patronizing approach that believes in the abilities of each and every employee, at all levels of the organizational hierarchy, to surprise, be creative, innovate, contribute, and be useful. This approach creates a better and more interesting workplace for all the employees. Moreover, according to this approach, even if the employees raise a lot of "small" ideas for improvements, these ideas can accumulate to constant improvement, and lead to a large and significant change over time.

The second approach focuses on creating an innovation all-stars team - a select group of people that has been trained to lead innovation in an organization. According to this approach, innovation is intended to bring about business results, and it is a means to develop the organization, and not an ends in itself. The most worthwhile pursuit here is to establish and cultivate a small and select inter-departmental team that will specialize in developing innovative products and services that will lead the organization into the future. It is also possible to establish several such teams, for example - a strategic innovation team, a product innovation team, and a technological innovation team - as long as each team has clear business goals to which it strives. The advantage of this approach is in its efficiency - derived from the Pareto principle: the resources designated to cultivating innovation are invested only in areas that are directly related to revenues and profits, and only in a small number of especially talented key people. The foundation of this approach is the belief that these key people are enough for guiding the organization toward the majority of its potential growth directions. This is a decisive and task-oriented approach. Two important advantages of such innovation teams are the expertise (the staff members gain a great deal of innovation-related practical experience), and implementation ability (when decisions are made by a team of key people, it is highly likely that they will be fulfilled).

Where does your organization fit in? Who makes the decisions regarding implementing innovation at your organization? Which of the two approaches does it adopt? It is important to discuss this and make an educated decision!

How to train for creativity?

There are several ways to train all the employees for creativity, with a reasonable training budget. One option is to expose them to thinking tools and various creativity methods as part of mass training. For example, for several years we have been offering an Invent-It-Yourself day designed for an unlimited number of participants, conducted by a single facilitator. I have conducted such days for 200 participants from the Israel Association of Community Centers, and to groups of 50 people at HP, Partner, InterWise, Migdal Insurance, Delta Galil and many other companies.

The participants are divided into small work groups and each group receives some product or service to tackle (television, car, washing machine, university, bank, etc.). Over the course of the day, they learn how to characterize problems, how to solve them, and how to find innovations and improvements using systematic thinking tools - each group in its own domain. Thus, participants gain practical innovation-related experience and come away feeling that they are capable of creatively coping with ongoing problems at work.

On the other hand, in order to get the innovation all-stars team on its feet, one day is not enough. The training required is more specific and professional, with a practical emphasis. For example - training a product innovation team usually takes seven days, once a fortnight: three days to develop ideas for innovations on an important product line (using inventive thinking tools), a fourth day to develop ideas for innovation on a second product line - self facilitated (to implement the thinking tools among participants), and three days to promote the idea bank that was generated, including internal and external screening. Subsequent to such a process, the product innovation team is left with ideas and management tools that will keep it busy during the upcoming years.

In a similar manner, the technological innovation team learns problem solving tools during an intensive three-day course, and afterwards, for several days with an external facilitator, someone that solves real fundamental problems (valued at millions of shekels per year to an organization, in saving costs or increasing revenues). The team participants acquire practical experience in solving complex problems, and success stories that were created in the process encourage them to continue working with the tools they acquired. At the end of the training process, the technological innovation team continues to meet regularly, and solve additional important problems independently.

In the past decade, we have trained such innovation teams in more than 100 organizations, including Keter Plastic, Hollandia, Strauss Ice Cream, Yad Mordechai, Packer Plada, Klil Industries, Carmel Carpets, Gibor-Sabrina, Bagir, Agis, Meditec, Serafon, Harmonic, Medimop, and many more.

Thinking Tools to Train All Employees in Creativity

The approach we choose for cultivating innovation affects not only the scope and depth of training, but also the content. In order to cultivate creativity among all employees, they have to be taught general and flexible methods and tools that suit every position and employee. In contrast, the designated innovation teams will be trained in more specific and professional methods and tools suited for strategic, marketing or technological innovation, as we already mentioned above.

Here are a few general and flexible tools that suit all employees in an organization, with examples (from the HR field) of their implementation:

  • No!: A simple thinking tool from Edward de Bono, where axioms and taboos are negated, and conclusions are drawn as a result. For example - the phrase "(Most) of our employees are hired workers" becomes "(Most) of our employees are not hired workers". Discussing this issue at the HR department may lead to exploring the possibility of employing temps, freelancers, subcontractors, etc., instead of hired workers.
  • Lasso: A tool used to define problems in a way that is neither too narrow nor too broad. For example - if "the training budget is insufficient for the desired training", the problem must not be defined as "we lack the budget for leadership workshops" (too narrow), or "it's difficult to be a training manager in our organization" (too broad).
  • Times 10: A problem solving tool where you try to solve a problem that is ten times more difficult, and subsequently manage to simply solve an easier problem. For example - the problem "How do we hire 10 employees this month? will be replaced with "How do we hire 100 employees this month?". There are more constraints for the second problem and this forces us to raise creative ideas, rendering the first problem and its resolution relatively simple (this way, for example).
  • Starting from the End: A problem solving tool that starts from the solution and works its way backward, step by step, to solving / defining the process to arrive at the problem. For example: How do we prevent employees from being late?" At the final stage - no employees are late. The stage prior to that - only 2 are late - and you have one-on-one talks with them. A stage before - only 10 are late - and you have a time management workshop with them. And so forth...
  • SCAMPER: An acronym for seven thinking tools that can be taught in less than an hour. This is a fairly flexible method that can improve a product, service or process. For example, you can use the first tool - Substitute, on the problem "How to improve the food at the cafeteria", and get ideas like "work with two catering companies instead of only one", "buy home-cooked food from the employees' family members", "give vouchers for restaurants in the area one day a week", etc.
  • De Bono's Six Thinking Hats: A method for conducting comprehensive and civilized discussions involving complex and creative ideas. Includes thinking with six "hats" (feelings, information, benefits, judgment, creativity, process). This tool makes it possible to promote innovative and controversial ideas in a group, such as: "Let's move to a four-day workweek".

Methods for Training Designated Innovation Teams

Unlike the general tools presented above, there are more specific and professional methods that are more effective for designated innovation teams. Here are examples of methods suitable for three different innovation teams:

  • Blue Oceans: A method for developing innovative strategy that changes the rules of the game in the market and makes the competitors "disappear". Gist: Changing the marketing mix to exceptionally support the important main benefit to customers (and to "non-customers"), and concurrently cancelling or minimizing other things that are generally given to customers (but are not associated with this benefit). For example - McDonald's provides fast food, but gave up waiters, chef cuisine, and an extensive menu. This method is suitable for management, and strategic innovation teams.
  • Inventive thinking in product development (NPD): A method to identify the majority of possible innovations in a product or service using six inventive thinking tools. For example: using this method we helped identify 500 possible innovations in ice creams, and more than 150 innovations in carpets. One of the thinking tools is called Multiplication, and it can be used to develop, among other things, popsicles with two layers of coating, and a reversible carpet where one side is for winter and the other for summer. This method is suitable for product innovation teams usually comprised of marketing professionals, R&D and production professionals.
  • Inventive thinking in problem solving (PS): A method to solve particularly difficult technological problems. For example, a thinking tool called Unification makes it possible to solve problems using resources that already exist and are available in the problem's environment. At Intel, for example, they used this tool to save on buying an expensive machine to test processors (chips). It turned out that chips that were already tested (an existing and available resource at Intel's factory) can test other chips that had not yet been tested. This method is suitable for engineers and technological innovation teams.

Combined Approach for Cultivating Innovation

Must you choose between cultivating organization-wide innovation and establishing designated innovation teams? Not necessarily. You can establish innovation teams and concurrently cultivate creativity among the other employees. In addition - there is also a way to combine the two approaches and create an innovation all-star team that drives the creativity of the other employees in the organization.

In order to combine the two approaches in a large organization, an "extreme innovation committee" should be established. This committee directs queries to all employees in the organization, and they are asked to contribute ideas for innovations on a certain topic. After collecting ideas, the committee categorizes them, disqualifies some ideas, sends ideas for "evolutionary" innovations (upgrading existing products / services) for handling by the relevant managers in the organization, and adopts a small number of ideas for disruptive innovation (revolutionary ideas that require separate handling - since they challenge the organization's status quo).

For example - an innovation committee at the Israel Aerospace Industries posed the following question to thousands of employees: "Do you have ideas for business directions that are worthwhile to promote, subsequent to the Israeli government's decision to build a security fence hundreds of kilometers long?" One employee suggested developing an unmanned armored personnel carrier that would patrol the borders, identify intrusion attempts by terrorists (using various sensors), alert the security forces, and until they arrive activate flares and weapons in the direction of the terrorists' assumed hiding spot. An idea for such a land vehicle, which is unconventional for the aerospace industry, took shape thanks to the innovation committee, and became a spin-off that spawned a new and successful product line.

Conducting a Productive Dialogue with Employees

When all the employees in the organization are asked to raise ideas for innovation, it utilizes their cumulative intelligence, knowledge and experience according to the Wisdom of Crowds principle, which states that the insight of many laymen exceeds that of a small number of experts (for more about this principle, read the book Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki).

However, in order to harness the wisdom of crowds in an organization and conduct a productive dialogue with the employees, it is very important to predefine exactly what is required of them. This can be done using specific questions (such as in the example with the security fence), or using structured forms to submit ideas. Good forms require that the applicant clarify how the idea meets the various criteria of a "good idea" (cost and applicability, anticipated profit, compatibility with strategy, etc.).

It is also important to reward employees if you want to motivate them to raise creative ideas on an ongoing basis. Creativity can be rewarded in several ways:

  • Financial prize: a fixed sum, a percentage of the costs that were saved or the revenues that increased, etc.
  • Symbolic prize: a weekend at a hotel, a meal for two, a ticket to a show, DVD, etc.
  • Awarding honor and prestige: an R&D budget, membership in the innovation team, a promotion, being given a platform at the board meeting, a recognition award at the annual employee conference, etc.

A word of caution: Receiving ideas from employees requires constant and careful management. It is important to ensure that each employee that sends a suggestion receives a quick response (otherwise the senders give up and will not offer any more ideas). It is also important to clarify why certain ideas are promoted and others are not (otherwise, those whose ideas were rejected might be insulted). At Strauss Ice Cream, for example, a newsletter-poster is hung in the cafeteria, with a list of the innovation ideas that were sent that week and the relevant manager's response. This would not work in larger organizations with thousands of people, and other ways must be found to give quick and clear feedback to employees.


Managing innovation and cultivating creativity in an organization is no simple task.Some of the things that must be considered are:

  • Deciding what the purpose and aims of innovation and creativity are.
  • Choose an approach: training all the employees, forming an innovation all-star team, or a combination of both.
  • Choose suitable methods and tools, and use them to train relevant employees
  • Create ongoing work processes, constant stimulation, and appropriate compensation

Only smart integration of all elements these will ensure the constant flow of creative ideas that may significantly benefit the organization.

I hope that this article helps you, and I wish you the best of luck in creating a bright future for your organization!

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The article was written by Ari Manor, CEO of ZOOZ Marketing & Organizational Consulting. ZOOZ conducts training for managers and employees. Send your comments to