Innovation is the hallmark of a company that grows, prospers, and makes its mark on both the industry and the world.

Though innovation is often attributed to a single idea, there are actually a number of characteristics that help contribute to an environment of innovation. Here are some of the hallmarks of innovative organizations.

Can you replicate their success with your innovation program?

1. There are Always More Ideas in the Pipeline

Innovative companies aren't waiting around to see what ideas fly and which crash and burn. True innovators always have new ideas in the works and are continually brainstorming to come up with new things to try. Each time a project fails, the team takes the lessons it learned and applies them to future ideas. Over time, they have accumulated a large body of knowledge and insight on what is viable and what isn't, making future ideas even more likely to succeed.

2. The Innovation Team (and Upper Management) Can "Think Outside the Box"

Innovative teams don't assume that mugs are just for hot coffee and airplanes are for flying. They put aside all preconceived notions about what does what and try all sorts of new ways to look at and use things we take for granted. But more than that, the executives in an innovative organization don't have the, "We don't do that here," mindset. They are open to looking at new ways of doing business, new ideas for products and processes, and new customer bases to explore.

3. The Company Budgets Enough for New Product Development

As much as we all love the stories of the cash-strapped inventor who spent his or her last $10 to make a prototype, those innovators are as rare as a Chromebook in Microsoft's headquarters. The reality is, innovation isn't cheap. Teams burn through many ideas that generate no revenue but cost a boatload to research and attempt to develop. There has to be enough cash set aside to use until a new innovation takes off and covers those development costs.

innovation team

4. The Company Has to be Financially Sound

Speaking of which, it really isn't possible to set aside money you don't have. Innovative companies are almost always staying the course with tried and proven products to keep the bills paid while other innovations make their way through the neural pathways of the team and to a viable, marketable condition. There really is no shortcut here. The romantic stories of ruthless venture capitalists taking chances on the unproven upstart are Hollywood fiction. The reality is, that no VC or lender will help you until you've done a heaping of helping yourself.

5. The Company Has to be Willing to Accept a Certain Amount of Risk

Risk is an ugly word in many organizations. Those are typically the organizations that close up shop when a new technology renders them and their product worthless. Microsoft took it on the chin with Windows 8, but it didn't stop them from forging ahead with 8.1 and 10. Google similarly flopped with Wave, Lively, Buzz, and Answers. Oh, you don't remember those? That's likely because you're focused on their many massive success stories instead. Companies that are willing to take some risks on products like Windows 8 and Google Buzz are around for inspiring success stories like Windows XP and YouTube.

6. The Company Uses Good Organization and a Streamlined Development System

If you relate the creative, innovative environment as one of chaos, messiness, and disorder, you'll need to rethink it to succeed. While innovators are chaotic in brainstorming and developing genius new ideas, they are also careful, thoughtful, and methodical when it comes to keeping their work organized and their development processes streamlined.

Massive innovators like Facebook, Apple, and Tesla Motors give their workers space to brainstorm and play with ideas but also have structured, organized, well-planned processes for taking an idea through the R&D phases. Innovation management software can be immensely helpful in keeping your team organized and on track.

7. The Company Needs a Mindset of Recognizing and Jumping on Opportunities

Get out there and find some problems that need solving. You never know where the inspiration for the next big innovation might be hiding.

There is an old saying that "Problems are just opportunities in disguise." There's a lot of truth to this. When it comes to innovation, you don't have to limit yourself to solving your own problems. Step into your customers' shoes and solve some of their problems. Look to other countries, nature, or even outer space and think about solving those problems too. Innovation often comes when the thinker is able to relate two completely unrelated ideas, thereby generating an entirely new concept.

For example, how do the butterfly's wings relate to how a software system retrieves data, or how does the orbit of Mars around the sun relate to a streamlined automotive design? Look for opportunities, and always be ready to seize them when they stroll by.

team working

8. The Innovation Team Needs to Possess a Strong Propensity for Persistence

Unfortunately, there are many more Windows 8s and Google Waves than there are the whopping success stories. Innovation teams can't let it get them down when they face a flop. Or two. Or ten. Teams that are able to be persistent, learn from their mistakes, and forge ahead even after a long, difficult series of setbacks are the teams that are inevitably able to produce the winning innovations that drive their business, and indeed, drive entire industries.

Innovation isn't accidental. It's hard, purposeful work, but it can be improved tremendously with the use of the right innovation management software.

Jump to Section