What is Innovation?

October 2, 2019

By 

Wayne Willis

No matter what line of work your business is in you’ve no doubt heard the term innovation. It’s a word used at your networking events, in articles online, in the press and all over your social media feeds. It may well have even cropped up in your board meetings. But what is it?

Firstly, whilst the term innovation can easily be seen as a shiny buzzword, peddled by Millennials to the frustration of those business owners that have been growing their business “just fine”, let me assure you it’s far more than that and should be a serious consideration when planning your forward company strategy. Ask 100 people and you will likely receive 100 different definitions of innovation, as it can be applied to so many scenarios and events. From a commercial point of view, innovation is turning an idea into something that has value for which a consumer will pay. This can be delivered in multiple ways including new product development, the introduction of a new service, development of the consumer experience, a partnership with another brand to form a new offering and so on.

 

As well as the customer-facing touch points, innovation is also important to internal processes. How you hire, your business processes, your approach to R&D, and your overall company culture. If you have a business that is open to ideas and you enable a culture of collaboration, trying new concepts with a fail-fast approach, embracing external insights, from those who are not hindered by your day to day company practices, then you have a far better shot of achieving commercial innovation and avoid being disrupted in your market.

 

Why should you be bothered? Well, businesses are being disrupted at an alarming rate and this will only increase. These disruptions are from businesses, often startups, that have nothing to lose and go at the market full force. The fact is, most legacy companies play not to lose. They need to protect their market share, keep profits rolling, keep shareholders happy, pay salaries and keep their competitors at bay. It’s these companies that are at real risk. In continuing the status quo, the way they have always done it, they are ignoring the changing world we live in, especially with the advancement of digital technology and the power that this provides to the consumer.

 

Startups, however, play to win. They try ideas, fail fast, learn and start again, and embrace the vast technological opportunities available to them. With the right mix, these companies can disrupt and break even the most successful, global businesses. There are lots of examples of this happening (Blockbuster Video anyone?)

 

So how do you change your mindset and ensure that your business is open to innovation and prepared to be a disruptor rather than be disrupted? Firstly, you need to physically enable innovation opportunities to happen. Very few organisations have teams dedicated to innovation. Those that do, assign the role to colleagues who already have responsibility for day-to-day business, meaning their focus is usually on the urgent day-to-day and not innovation. Additionally, those colleagues who do the day-to-day are not necessarily armed with the skill set or the freedom of thought that is required for delivering true innovation - especially so if you want disruptive innovation. They are often blinkered by the companies existing processes, culture and the existing viewpoint of their marketplace, which makes it really hard to Be Disruptive and Think Differently about the company’s direction.

 

There are some key elements to innovation and if you can get these right, you will have success.

 

THE STRATEGY

This needs to come from the senior leaders who set the direction of the organisation. It must be clear, communicated and have vision. Where are we going, why we are going there and where do we want/need to be?  Define what is innovation for your organisation. What’s the next destination of your organisation's direction? 

 

PROCESS

How we are going to deliver the strategy? Often colleagues are given a vision but with no clear direction on how to achieve this, and an unwillingness to change the processes and culture of the company to allow for change to happen. What tools, processes, personnel, resources do we need? The key here is planning and execution.

 

CULTURE

This is the indefinable magic that makes the Strategy and Process work.  What motivates your people, how they will be incentivised and most importantly how do they feel?  This is the most important element. You can have the most amazing strategy and processes in place, but without a strong and engaged company culture, you will not achieve your potential.

 

There are lots of other elements to innovation - but getting these things right are the key first steps.

 

Ultimately, to be able to innovate, you must be open to changing or adapting what you already know. Look at your marketplace and competitors? Who is growing, who is floundering or worse, have disappeared? Who’s new to the sector? How have your customers changed, and how do they now access your products or services? Is your offer still relevant? Are you embracing the power of digital? Do you know the tools that are available to you? All of these are questions to explore if you are serious about still being in business a decade from now.  Make your own future based on what your consumers/customers need, and more importantly will need in the future.

 

Engaging with external people who can look at your business with fresh eyes without the barriers of your existing culture is a great way to start the innovation ball rolling. Certainly, you can include your employees in the process, and this is important if you are to develop an innovation culture. But allowing the change to be led and facilitated by external people, who can bring their knowledge, experience and top-down view of your business and marketplace will be the best catalyst for change. Additionally, by using an external team you reduce any stress on the businesses resources and the disruptive effect on the day-to-day tasks, which is often a concern for company leaders.

 

It’s important to note, no business, regardless of size, is invulnerable from disruption. Some of the biggest companies in the world today are businesses that were not even in existence a decade or so ago. This disruption will continue, in every sector, and legacy businesses that do not embrace change and take action to innovate what they do are at serious risk of being another one of those company closure statistics. 

 

Edenic Group is an innovation consultancy that was set up to help companies tackle this problem head-on. Using our self-developed ‘Eve’ methodology, we work with businesses to help them kick start and develop their innovation strategy and achieve 3 key goals.

 

Be Disruptive | Embrace Digital | Think Differently

 

Contact us for an initial consultation about your company and learn how we can help you to achieve continued growth and avoid disruption by new players.

About the author:

Partner
A former teacher, Wayne has gone on to head up several companies in the creative and technology sectors.

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