Over the last twelve years, I’ve worked with hundreds of leaders to help them build innovation cultures and accelerate innovation across their organizations. One of my biggest takeaways from working with so many leaders is that the term “innovation” is so broad and vague that it’s often left to people’s imaginations just how innovation happens. In a recent conversation with one innovation leader, we talked about the importance of establishing an “innovation rhythm” that puts an emphasis on building energy around specific challenges. This innovation rhythm also establishes a regular cadence for ideation and experimentation around challenges identified by executives. Establishing an innovation rhythm provides a consistent model for executing innovation.
So how can you define an innovation rhythm that makes sense? Here are four steps to build an innovation rhythm that works for you, your team, and your company.

1. Engage your leadership at the beginning of your innovation cycles. Momentum for new ideas often comes from the grassroots. But leadership usually drives the funding and the priorities for which ideas get moved to the top of the agenda. At the beginning of each innovation rhythm cycle, engage with leadership to understand key challenges they are facing. Ask your executives and other sponsors/budget-holders to help you understand your organization’s top 3 to 4 problems. Ask them “What’s keeping you up at night?”

One way to harvest those problems from your leadership is executive-level problem framing sessions. A session like this can be as short as a one-hour hour working session with a group of executives, or you can string it out across multiple sessions with different executives and leaders in your company. However you do it, have each executive or leader identify the top three problems they feel need to be solved over the next three to six months.

2. Reframe your big challenges as “How Might We” statements. Your leadership has shared with you their most pressing problems. Now, it’s time to get down to work with your innovation team or other stakeholders to frame the problems as “How Might We” (HMW) statements. Your HMW statements should be customer-centric. In other words, they need to be focused on the user or customer who will benefit from you solving the problem. Also, make sure your HMWs aren’t too broad, otherwise it will be difficult to uncover meaningful solutions.

For example, one team we worked with initially defined their HMW as “How might we improve our order management process so we get fewer customer complaints.” I worked with this team to transform that problem statement so it was more customer-centered and the right scope. We reframed the challenge as: “How might we increase customers’ trust that we’ll deliver the right product at the right time for the right price?”

3. Build grassroots momentum through open ideation. You’ve drilled down to some challenges the executives feel pretty good about. You’ve refined those challenges into solid HMW statements. Now you can run open ideation sessions, tapping into the creativity of your entire company. Begin by putting the HMW challenges out to different teams so they can start brainstorming solutions. There are a number of open ideation and crowdsourced innovation platforms out there that let you post challenges and allow people across your organization to submit their ideas in response. Some teams use simple Excel spreadsheets to gather ideas. Others use tools like Mural, Miro, or IdeaScale. Regardless of how you make the call for ideas, you should open it up and let people ideate for a few weeks to a month.

4. Run a design sprint to drive rapid experimentation. Unfortunately, many innovation leaders overlook this step. But it’s essential for validating ideas and presenting high-impact ideas back to executives at the end of the innovation rhythm cycle. In this final step, you need to take time to evaluate all of the ideas that came out of open ideation and pick the top two or three that have the most potential. Then, have different teams run a design sprint.

Design sprints are design thinking sessions that last two or three days. They let teams quickly ideate on an idea, solution, or challenge. By the end of the sprint, teams have built out simple low-fidelity prototypes to validate their ideas. Doing a sprint at the end of your rhythm lets you come back to your leadership with different high-impact solutions you identified. Feel free to download our Innovation Sprint Playbook, which provides a step-by-step guide for how to organize and facilitate fast-paced design sprints.

Using your innovation rhythm

If you don’t already have a cadence for driving innovation, use these four steps as a framework. If you already have a cadence, I recommend using the steps to accelerate toward consistent outcomes. If you need some guidance, here’s a worksheet to walk you through creating your innovation rhythm.

A lot of leaders I’ve coached have felt like innovation was hit-or-miss for them. An innovation rhythm will help you create the energy to sustain innovation and get to consistent outcomes. It is possible to execute an innovation strategy that combines top-down and grassroots approaches. Use the innovation rhythm framework to build your confidence that you can control the consistency and pace of innovation in your organization.

Innovation Rhythm Resources

Innovation Rhythm worksheet

The resources in our new innovation rhythm worksheet work as a foundation for designing your innovation rhythm. Use the questions as prompts to think about the cadence that makes sense in your organization, and what steps will build momentum for you.

Complementary Strategy Session

If you have questions, reach out to us. We are here to help. We offer complimentary one-on-one coaching sessions. If you’re interested in getting feedback as you’re building out your innovation rhythm, schedule time with us.

Innovation eXcelerator Coaching Program

This intensive coaching program is for innovation leaders who know the basics of design thinking and are ready to take it to a new level. The program includes one-on-one coaching, group coaching, and sessions with an Innovation Squad of your peers. The next session is starting soon, so apply to be in the next cohort! Your application review also includes a complimentary strategy session, so you can see how we help companies and individuals.

5-Day Innovation Challenge

The 5-Day Innovation Challenge is perfect if you want to go deeper on concepts like creating How Might We statements and building low-fidelity prototypes. This resource is free, but it’ll take your innovation game to the next level…if you’re willing to put in the work. Sign up now to receive a new activity in your inbox every day for a week.