Firms are talking about innovation, yet many struggle with how to develop an innovative culture and strategy and to make a difference. Naturally, some people are happy with the status quo and conventional success. The challenge is to move the mindset from conventional success to that of a game-changer. This requires different thinking — transformation, rather than just incremental change. The keys are leadership and the building of teams that want to be led and are willing to be held accountable. Innovation requires collaborative teams, focused on adding value through leadership (direction), relationships (confidence) and creativity (new capabilities).

The following 10 tips will help any organization improve and accelerate the results from innovative thinking.

1. Think — plan — grow. Innovation requires time to think, time to plan and time to grow. Tightly scheduled partners generally can’t transform themselves or their firms. This is where delegation and succession work at all levels and ages within an organization. You must free people up through delegation in order to have the time to think, plan and grow. Charlie “Tremendous” Jones says the books you read and the people you meet will determine who you will be in five years. There is great truth to this statement, and exposing one’s self and one’s firm to new thinking, experiences and capabilities is extremely important in creating an innovative culture.

2. Innovation generally starts as a bad idea. Innovators often have an idea, but it requires an innovation manager to make the idea real and a collaborative team to scale it. Also, remember that most innovation starts as a bad idea, especially to an incumbent or someone who is going to be disrupted or replaced by the change. This is why lean process reviews and project management skills are becoming increasingly important in today’s rapidly changing environment.

3. Innovation requires a collaborative team. Large and small organizations are taking the 5x5x5 approach where a team of five is assigned challenges, and given five weeks and a $5,000 budget to solve one or more problems. Sometimes, it is most efficient to skip a problem and move forward to a higher priority. This approach supports collaboration as well as a sense of urgency. It will also encourage looking at external resources and leveraging peer relationships.

4. Diversity and inclusion increase the possibilities, as well as provide multiple perspectives. This strategy goes back to the Renaissance, when the Medici family brought numerous disciplines together in what is called “intersectional” rather than “directional” innovation. Don’t be afraid to open your dangers, opportunities and strengths up to clients and other professional leaders. They are willing to help, and an outside perspective is valuable.

5. Culture and leadership are the keys. Don’t be afraid of failure, but be prepared to fail fast and learn from your failure. Transformation and innovation are journeys, not one-time events. This requires strong, innovative leaders who are willing to manage risk, knowing there will be failures, but confident enough in the firm’s ability to pivot.

Portrait of Fra Luca Pacioli
Accounting innovator Fra Luca Pacioli, the father of double-entry bookkeeping

6. Trust determines speed and return on investment. Organizations that have a high level of trust receive a dividend, while those with a low level of trust pay a tax. In his book “The Speed of Trust,” author Stephen Covey demonstrates 13 ways organizations can increase trust. Lack of trust and FOMO (“fear of missing out”) often impede progress, and the focus should be on progress, not perfection.

7. Mindset determines growth. Some people are wired for growth, while others are not. Some of the entrepreneurial mindsets needed for innovation are:

  • Vision;
  • Lifelong learning;
  • Team player;
  • Game changer vs. conventional success;
  • Process improvement; and,
  • Accountability — being willing to hold yourself and others accountable.

8. Innovators need to be involved in interactive conversations rather than working alone. Innovators often put more pressure on themselves by not discussing their ideas in front of peers. This can come from a lack of confidence or simply the fact that most innovation starts as a bad idea in the mind of anyone the idea will disrupt. By fostering interactive conversations, the entrepreneur is able to commit, increase their courage, grow their capabilities, and gain confidence.

9. To transform, you have to leave something behind. Accounting firms and their clients are challenged to leave some services behind, even those that add value or are profitable. As traditional services are being commoditized, the move to higher-value advisory services is a great example. Many say that they don’t have time to offer these services or their staff are not confident in a consulting role. Transformation requires a journey that includes planning, education and evaluating skill gaps. The decision and choice as to what services you should leave behind are yours. Don’t procrastinate and impede your ability to move up the continuum of value.

10. Risk management, rather than risk avoidance, is important to an innovative culture. Many in the profession have been trained in risk avoidance. Entrepreneurs generally have a greater tolerance for risk and focus on managing it. After-the-fact audit risk is much different from managing economic risk and future strategies. Anticipate risks to reduce them, improve planning, increase innovation, improve processes, and scale results.

Innovation has different meanings to different people and professions. Some of the hard trends that can be managed and will impact you and your organization are:

  • Demographics. There are approximately 10,000 Baby Boomers leaving the workforce daily in the U.S.
  • Regulation. Federal, state and local regulations are increasing.
  • Technology. The big three: processing power, bandwidth and storage are on exponential growth curves and plummeting in cost.

With these hard trends, you can reduce your risk while sustaining success and becoming future-ready. Remember: Think — plan — grow.