Innovative HR

Why a Community of Innovators is Important and How to Start One

At the heart of every groundbreaking organization lies a deeply rooted belief: Innovation doesn’t just happen; it blossoms when nurtured by genuine leadership messages and anchored by a core group of authentic innovators. Picture this core group as the initial spark, igniting a transformation into what we call a ‘community of innovators.’ Imagine a network of passionate, connected individuals who believe in the power of innovation to propel the organization forward, united in their quest to achieve shared goals. This is not about individual brilliance but a collective journey toward creating something genuinely remarkable, guided by the vision that innovation is critical to unlocking the organization’s full potential.


Another Buzzword, or Maybe Not?

People have always lived in communities; it’s part of who we are. Communities come in many shapes and forms, acting as the melting pots where societies are built. Some focus on creating long-lasting bonds to strengthen well-being, safety, and growth, while others are dedicated to the transference of knowledge and practice.

You’re likely aware that relationships, not organizations, drive change. For us, community is less about formal associations and more about meaningful encounters between diverse individuals united around a shared purpose.

From our perspective, communities are groups of people who share concerns, problems, or a passion for a topic and deepen their knowledge and expertise through ongoing interaction. Three key features set a community of practice, such as a community of innovators, apart from other types of groups: 1) the domain, referring to the specific topic or theme of advancement and discussion; 2) the community, consisting of individuals who share a keen interest in the domain; and 3) the practice, which includes the concepts, tools, skills, knowledge, and collective resources contributing to the progression of the subject area (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002).

 

But Why Do We Need a Community of Innovators?

Innovation thrives on the efforts of innovators. It’s not solely about capturing the next groundbreaking idea, perfecting every procedure, or possessing the most advanced technology. At its heart, innovation is about the people—those passionate individuals who are fully committed to what they do and driven to make a difference. People are the absolute powerhouse behind innovation.

Facing innovation can be intimidating. But what’s really behind our anxieties? It’s a mix of fears: the fear of messing up, flopping, facing the unknown, navigating uncertainty, looking silly, standing out from the crowd, losing grip, letting ourselves or others down, not measuring up, taking that initial leap, risking it all with no guarantee of a payoff, getting rejected, or believing we don’t have that creative spark. And that’s just scratching the surface. But the good news is, it’s always easier to face your fears when you are not alone. That’s where a community comes in.

Sometimes, innovation seems like a distant dream. We’ve got to start talking more about the hurdles and how we can jump over them. We need spaces to learn, get inspired, collaborate, and share. We need a proving ground for ideas to share with the rest of our organization. We’re talking about needing case studies, tools, and coaching support. Bringing an innovation to life is a team sport – it truly takes a village!

 

How to Approach Creating a Community of Innovators Inside the Corporation?

Let us be clear immediately – there isn’t a recipe for this, especially inside a corporation, which is not inherently a community. Why us on this topic? My passion is crafting solutions that thoughtfully address specific challenges by applying design values and principles. While some may label this as design thinking, it is a purposeful strategy to devise the most effective solutions. Dragan brings a profound dedication to understanding and uplifting people, always eager to unlock their utmost potential. Together, we’ve dedicated ourselves to the growth and flourishing of various communities for many years.

Our mission in creating a community of innovators is to empower the extraordinary within the ordinary. “Ordinary” refers to the organizational culture – how we do things around here. Our goal is to foster more extraordinary innovation by extraordinary people.

The very first step in our process was to organize a discovery workshop. We’ve been working together on empowering innovation through different formats for years now, and having conversations about the community was getting more and more mature. The purpose of the discovery workshop was to help us all align on what we are trying to achieve with a community of innovators and whether or not the timing is right. The main outputs of this session were:

  • Alignment on the need and the timing for this new innovation initiative.
  • Understanding the community’s role in the company.
  • Evaluating the current state of innovators at the company. We previously conducted and analyzed the survey and interviews among those employees who have worked on innovation projects. We needed to understand how much newly acquired innovation knowledge they translated into their everyday job and the obstacles to applying innovative thinking within the ordinary.
  • Alignment on why the community is the possible solution to accomplishing our mission. We looked for evidence of this. We wanted to start building a community of people with soundproof that this solution is needed. We talked about what would change if we had a community.
  • Analyzing previous community-building efforts for insights.
  • Drawing inspiration from thriving communities.
  • Defining success for our community and what we aim to avoid.
  • Assessing available resources for building the community.
  • Agreeing on an iterative approach, starting with an MVP and building upon feedback.

This intense process was rewarding because it made our next step much easier: rolling out the document’s first version and elaborating on a strategic approach to building a community of innovators.

This document allowed us to develop a holistic view of the following elements of the community:

  1. Purpose, vision, and mission
  2. Values and desired behaviors
  3. Strategy for developing the community
  4. Initial community development roadmap (community MVP 1 and MVP 2)
  5. Success metrics and risky assumptions to test
  6. Key stakeholders and value propositions for each
  7. Engagement strategies and program activities for MVP 1
  8. Timeline of initial activities
  9. Connection to other innovation programs and initiatives within the L&D department
  10. Initial communication strategy for the community
  11. Evaluation and iteration steps toward community MVP 2 development.

We also defined the following steps to ensure they resonate with early adopters and key stakeholders.

 

Why have we decided to write this blog?

As you can see, even when thinking outside the box, there are some rules. Innovation does not equate to chaos. But it does equate freedom of thought and bravery in exploring the new.

Innovation in big organizations is possible. We are curious about what new or better looks like, brave enough to challenge the status quo, persistent despite doubters and budget cuts, resilient, and maybe just a bit stubborn.

We believe anyone can be an innovator, but no one can do it alone. Innovation is all about collaboration, and collaboration is all about the community.

We inspire others to dream and do big things. We truly hope that after reading this, we have sparked some interest in this topic and provided you with some guidance in case you decide to take the road of building something this amazing.

To conclude, innovation is not an end but a means to create new things, solve problems, achieve one’s full potential, and broaden perspectives. No topic is too small or large to be seen from a new angle. Freedom and courage are innovation’s two best friends, and they can form your community, even if you are working alone.

 

Authors:
Sandra Nešić, PhD, Innovation Management Consultant, Associate Professor at Faculty of Media and Communications

Dragan Kovačević, Training and Skills Development Team Manager at A1

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