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The Innovation Charter: Defining Your Innovation Strategy

Lots of leaders are asking for innovation right now, but what they should be asking for is innovation strategy.

Innovation vs. Innovation Strategy

The underlying need these leaders are trying to address through innovation, of course, is growth. But, meaningful growth doesn’t come from a quick sprint or a big idea (that would be magic, not innovation). Rather, real, business-moving innovation requires vision, constraints, and investment—just like any other part of a major business.

INNOVATION = PEOPLE x TIME x MONEY

For many innovation leaders (creative leaders of any title), the desire to “invent the new” is an alluring destination. But, to be a successful innovation leader, you must be rigorous in lobbying other leaders on the right narrative about how your efforts plug into the larger strategy and growth of the business.

INNOVATION STRATEGY = INFLUENCE x BUY-IN x ADOPTION

In today’s businesses, the goal is not to create an innovation. The goal is to create an organization capable of innovating. We find that change management is perhaps the most unsung skillset in most corporate innovation programs today, which might seem counterintuitive. Can real innovation begin with rigid agendas and constraints like that?

That’s where the Innovation Charter comes in.

What is an Innovation Charter?

When building innovation strategies with our clients, we use an approach that helps them to define what we call an Innovation Charter. This is the brief for how innovation works at an organization. It’s the foundational requirements of innovation at any organization, framing the opportunity for its success.

An Innovation Charter can look different for each company, but it usually includes at least:

  • Specific CEO defined guidance on the role innovation plays at the organization,
  • Specific outcomes innovation should accomplish,
  • Defined metrics that support decision making at various stages of a new idea’s maturity,
  • A shared process for teams to align around,
  • A stakeholder map and cross-functional collaboration model, and
  • Clear examples of “good” and “bad” innovation at the organization today.

Embodied within an Innovation Charter is the organization’s Innovation Philosophy. This is the organization’s point of view on how innovation supports the success and/or growth of the organization.

We often like to use metaphors with our clients in crafting their Innovation Philosophy. Take superheroes, for example:

There are lots of ways that a superhero can save the world, but they each have their own approach informed by their superpower. Similarly, an organization needs to define its innovation approach, informed by its superpowers. Is it the Risk Taker, the Wall Street Savior, the Efficient Operator, the Internal Consultant, the Industry Disrupter, the R&D Lab, or even the Copycat? There isn’t a right or wrong approach, but it must be authentic to the organization, and it must be defined. (For more on this, check out “To Avoid an Innovation Identity Crisis, Know Who You’re Not.”)

Innovation Charter Example

One of my favorite recent, public examples I’ve seen of an Innovation Charter and Innovation Philosophy is from the Transportation Security Administration (yes, that TSA) who released their TSA Innovation Doctrine in October 2022.

In the TSA Innovation Doctrine document, they clearly define what innovation means (and doesn’t mean) for the TSA, how it works, who is involved, and the mindsets to embrace organizationally to achieve it. For a seasoned innovation professional, most of this information is not what you would consider ‘new to the world’ thinking – but that is not the objective. The objective is to clarify a vision and approach to innovation that the organization is aligned around and can plug in to support.

Note: Thanks to Karen Petty Hold, MBA for introducing me to the TSA Innovation Doctrine!

Additional Resources

For more on how to create an Innovation Charter, check out:

Interested in developing an Innovation Strategy for your team or organization? Send us a note to set up a discovery call with one of our team leads.

Andy Hagerman
[email protected]

Andy Hagerman is one of the co-founders and partners at The Design Gym, a strategy and innovation consultancy helping leaders to grow their business by fully unlocking the power of their most important advantage: their people. We work at the intersection of business strategy, experience design, and change management to engage the people that matter most to your work: your customers, your leaders, and your employees. See something that resonates with a project or challenge you're working on? Shoot him a note at [email protected].

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