Food In Canada

Unleashing your innovation potential

By Peter Henderson   

Business Operations Research & Development business strategy Innovation R&D

Top-down, middle-out and bottom-up

By Peter Henderson

A barrier to innovation can be cultural inertia and fear, as executives and middle management are driven by quarterly results. One way to help minimize this impact can be to embrace a top-down, middle-out and bottom-up approach to innovation.





Inspire a fertile environment for sustainable growth and prosperity. Franck Riboud, chair of Danone, once said “We cannot grow in the desert.” To Danone these simple words mean a company needs a fertile-thriving society if it wants to be sustainable. This message can apply equally well for a healthy ecosystem within a company.


  • Successful organizations support a view that human relations are vital to the successful growth, and refer to HR as Human Relations. Other leading companies have created positions for vice-president of People, or vice-president of Culture. For smaller or mid-size organizations, this role could be part-time, yet fully embraced by the entire senior leadership team.


  • Creating and framing challenges are the lifeblood of innovation. A great example of this is Canadian-based Ice River Springs, which asked their bottle supplier to create a bottle from 100-per-cent recycled bottles. Their supplier wasn’t able to do so. Ice River Springs persevered, sourced their own equipment and invented a process themselves. They now have 11 bottling plants and are the leader in private-label water. While everyone may not support the premise of bottled water, at least Ice River Springs can boast that they re-purpose bottles from Canadian recycling programs.




Walk the walk, with design thinking. Design thinking is an approach that uncovers challenges, unmet needs and opportunities, which other can’t see. It encourages collaboration (cross-functional and internal-external), and its methodology has been adopted by leading multinational organizations. The book Business Model Generation was co-created by 470 practitioners from 45 countries. Published in 2010, it is promoted as “a handbook for visionaries, game changers and challengers striving to defy outmoded business models and design tomorrow’s enterprises.” To download a 72-page preview, visit The beauty of the design thinking process is it can easily fit within an existing organization structure, as it can be adopted by one or many.


  • Make Innovation Fun: Design thinking, and filling white space can be very rewarding and motivating for all involved. A convenient online business tool that can contribute to effective design thinking and collaboration is It’s a digital mural, or white board, which can enable contribution from the entire innovation team as it enables real-time input and feedback (bottom-up, top-down and from the middle).




All employees can be open to juicing innovation potential. Think about how you can spark new ideas by addressing challenges, which could improve the performance of your colleagues, team and entire organization.


Regardless of your level within your organization, you can be an important contributor. Developing a new and inspiring culture takes time, careful planning and adoption of best practices. Building positive relationships and patience are important.


Peter Henderson is a director on the board of the Agri-food Management Institute (AMI). He is also founder and managing director of Ideovation, a Toronto-based growth strategy services company. Contact him at


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