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Making innovation part of everybody’s job at A Data Pro

Are innovators born or made? Can creativity be nurtured? Research and practice show that what you need to craft unique solutions is an open, critical mind, good knowledge of the processes you want to improve and the right environment. This time our talk on innovation with Rayna Grigorova, Ilka Stoeva-Chaneva and Boris Vasilev has shifted from how to convert ideas into action into how to boost people’s innovation capabilities.

Q: Are all the people of your team open to innovation? How do you motivate them?

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We are encouraging people to seek better ways to do our jobs, to question current processes and methods and suggest new approaches, Ilka explains. We can learn a lot from Intel’s executive Jurgen Benning, who expects the people from his team to think independently, “nurture an idea,” and be optimistic about its outcome. “Optimism is an essential ingredient of innovation,” he noted in his presentation at Innovation Explorer 2016, the second edition of the international forum held recently in Sofia. The meetings with members of his staff will usually end with the words “Go out and do something wonderful.”

Thinking out of the box, collaboration, trust, ability to deal with change, sharing problems and working on ways to overcome them, are the key ingredients of sustainable innovation culture, Boris added. One of the innovations to be introduced soon in our company is a ticketing system with the working title “I Have freetime, how can I use it to help?”. It will show at a glance in our organisation of 350+ people working on 100+ projects who can give a hand to a team that needs help. We are also working on process optimisation – how to minimise filling in tables, how to improve quality check systems.

Most of the new ideas at A Data Pro are grassroot, e.g optimisation of QA/QC process, ticketing systems, Rayna adds. We should do more thought-showering because most of the people in our company are open to new ideas and have critical thinking.

Obviously, the HR department does a good job in recruiting people with potential for creativity, Boris said.

This made me turn to our HR experts.

Q: How do you manage to attract open-minded people? Do you look for Google-ness, that is diversity of thinking rather than skills?

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“We look for A Data Pro-ness,” Anna Atanasova and Iva Todorova laugh. Apart from good analytical and language skills we consider the applicant’s willingness and potential to grow. We have no rigid requirements for education or experience, Iva says. One of the reasons for the people’s openness to new ideas is that for most of them it is their first job and they are not encumbered by routine, Anna notes. “We also appreciate interests in art, music, writing. They are a spur to creativity,” recruiter Maya Ilieva adds.

Our recruitment methods are far from traditional, Iva explains. Our referral initiative “Bring a friend” has already stretched across the social media and engages people who fit the culture of A Data Pro. Moreover, we have intern and postgraduate partnership programmes on creating media-monitoring content with Sofia University St Kliment Ohridski, St Cyril and St Methodius University of Tarnovo and The Paisii Hilendarski University of  Plovdiv. Lecturers from our company can observe potential hires first hand and give insights about their skills and abilities. On the other hand potential candidates get first-hand experience of industry specific jobs – creating media content, due-diligence research and database management.

Q: Do you need any special talent or abilities to generate innovative ideas?

One of the myths about innovation is that it is a random, spontaneous, magical discovery by people with special gifts, Rayna adds. The ability to innovate is a skill that can be learned, applied and managed. A very effective approach is the Systematic Inventive Thinking, which was introduced to a large group of analysts from the company in a workshop organised by consultancy Innovation Starter.

The method has five unique Thinking Tools – multiplication, subtraction, division, task unification and attribute dependency. They sound quite abstract but are actually patterns which have been used by innovators for a long time, Rayna explains. For example, subtraction is removing the core element from an existing product, service or business. That’s how the instant soups were created (soup without water) or Airbnb (a hospitality service without properties) and Uber (a cab-hailing business without cars).

During the workshop our analysts came up with a number of innovative ideas about optimising our processes eg the collecting and processing of feedback from clients, streamlining quality checks and the training for new projects. Boris’s idea  “I have free time, can I help?” is already out of beta stage.

Q: What do you think about experimenting with new ideas? How do you encourage “failing forward”?

Not all new ideas are great ideas but even a bad idea can lead to something innovative, so the more ideas we share, the better, Ilka noted. Sometimes a simple suggestion can grow into something big when discussed with the team.

We are often faced with the decision whether to go for an idea or leave it, Boris added. Some of the innovations at A Data Pro are based on failures because in order to see if something will work you have to put it into practice, find the fault and invent a way to correct it. Like Google we have something like a graveyard of ideas that haven’t seen the light of day… but this is part of the game. How can you filter good ideas without testing seemingly feasible ones? “Reward success, celebrate failure, punish inaction,” Dr Constantine “Dino” Kiritsis from PwC’s academy put it like that in his presentation at Innovation Explorer 2016.

Can everybody at A Data Pro become an innovator?

Ilka, Boris and Rayna seem to have  the basic recipe – encourage co-workers to share problems, break habits, open to grassroot ideas for optimising processes, learn from failures and develop a culture where people are empowered and engaged.