Every business has its own unique definition of what innovation means.
At its simplest, innovation is about translating an idea into a process, product or service that creates value and answers a need in a way not seen before.
What innovation is not, is simply a buzzword for the cool things that startups get to do. Take a look at the number of more established companies like Airbus or the Chubb Group who now employ a Chief Innovation Officer and you’ll get an idea as to how innovation is as much about staying ahead of the competition as it is about being disruptive.
Being innovative has to be ingrained in your biological make-up as a business for the best chance of success. For companies, that means it’s as much about the culture and mindset of the people in the business as it is about actions and outcomes.
The greatest threat to innovation is the status quo. Avoiding risk and doing the same old thing is the path of least resistance; but standing still for too long means competitors are likely to breeze past and take the opportunities afforded by your business’s complacency. Innovation is all about taking chances; it’s about calculated risk. About creating opportunities as well as negating negative outcomes.
So getting innovation up on the business agenda and embedding it successfully within the company culture is key to success. Here are my top tips:
Get everyone involved in the process
A classic mistake for entrepreneurs and c-suite executives alike is the assumption that the best ideas come from paid-for consultants or company insiders. There’s a good reason why innovation has traditionally been associated with startups – it’s down to their size, willingness and flexibility to embrace ideas of all shapes and sizes from anyone willing to contribute.
Innovation needs creativity, it needs fun and it needs diverse thinking; no surprise then that one of the best ways to enable creativity is to bring together all your people. And by all your people, think too about your customers and the role which their feedback, especially in the early stages can play in carving a path for your thinking.
Innovation needs time and space to breathe not time sheets and targets.
Forget WIPs, workshops and wash-ups – innovation needs time and space to take root. Your people need time (and not just a scheduled meeting in the diary) to daydream. If you make everyone account for every minute and penny you will suffocate innovation. Most of their ideas will probably lead nowhere but that’s part of the process – it’s about the collective outcome. Restrict time, energy, and resources and it simply won’t happen.
Leadership shapes innovation
At the same time it is important that those who take part appreciate that the process is about creating value – it requires leadership. And without outcomes it can be an expensive exercise. The onus rests on owners and senior directors alike, to provide a clear strategy, focus and plan for your team, ensuring that they understand what success looks like and what it will take to get there.
Remember that the best practices, products or services rarely ever land on the boss’s desk fully formed. Innovation is instead the coming together of awful suggestions, whacky ideas, great ideas, mistakes and success, all of which contribute to the final result.
Genuine innovation needs an application
Simply being more creative or thinking more innovatively doesn’t mean you will succeed in producing an innovative outcome – that question rests in its application. It’s about the value you create in your business. Be it a process, product or service, has what you’ve created resulted in an outcome which didn’t previously exist?
The acid test is what it means for your customer. Do you answer a market need and will someone pay money for what you’ve created? If the answer to either is ‘no’, then you’ve got a tough sell on your hands. Remember ascertaining your market and involving your customers at the earliest stages not only helps you shape a product or service which people want, but it enables them to engage with your product or service long before it hits the shelves.
Society, particularly in the UK has an unhealthy obsession with failure – and it’s a massive shackle on innovation. Risk-taking and creativity are often punished instead of rewarded. Rather than publicly dismissing ideas from your team you should be embracing and rewarding them.
Creativity and innovation should be celebrated both publicly and privately – your team need to know that they are contributing to a bigger cause. In short, if you want your team to be creative, you need to establish an environment that rewards them for doing so.
Join us at the Your Ready Business Live series event ‘The future of British innovation’ on the 6th June 2013.