Where there's a way, there's a will
Most innovation processes and thinking seems to take the form of "Where there's a will, there's a way". In other words, if someone will just believe enough, and push enough and advocate enough, we make convert an idea to a new product or service. Regardless of the obstacles, the lack of compensation and process, a true believer can convert an idea into a new product. At least that seems to be the prevailing school of thought.
Suppose, though, that we turned the phrase around. What if we considered the phrase to be "Where there's a way, there's a will". Would by definition ideas move more quickly and would people become more involved if there were processes and systems to move ideas to launch effectively? Would an established, standard process mean greater likelihood of participation and results, over the solo hero approach? I have to think the answer is yes.
Why? In the first approach, the only ideas that will move forward are those with fearless champions who are willing to scale any obstacle to push their idea ahead. While these folks can be very vocal and aggressive champions, usually you'll find these people have an agenda when they push and idea, or that the reason they are pushing alone is that no one else bought in. Also, it is difficult, dangerous and time-consuming to be what I call a "solo hero". Tilting at windmills in your organization usually does not lead up the corporate ladder. So, in this case it is difficult and unusual to find the best "champions" and difficult and dangerous to try to push the idea through the corporate bureaucracy. What's not to like?
On the other hand, standard processes and systems around innovation means that anyone can contribute an idea, and know that the idea will receive some standard evaluation. No one person has to be the "hero" and everyone can participate. Open, transparent standards made many systems more effective. Consider the difference between early computing and where we sit today. Almost all of the advances are based on standards. With a standard approach, more people can participate. There's also the increasing marginal return of a network involved. As more people participate, the value of the network increases. So with standard processes and systems, the individual wins, the firm wins and the ideas flow.
What does this say about our innovation initiatives? As with any other process, define a standard business process around innovation and compensate and motivate people to use and follow the process. As they do, the value of the process, and the value of the ideas that result, will increase.