A great way to build innovation into your business is to be looking for problems to solve and opportunities for improvement in your industry.
That’s not to say that inventions haven’t succeeded by accidentally creating an invention and then looking to see what can be solved by that invention (case in point – post-it notes). However, that is not the topic of this article – today’s topic is about actively seeking to build innovation into your business. So how do you go about doing this? Read on – here’s a few tips for you:
Create a culture for innovation to flourish
First and foremost, if you want to embed innovation into your organisation, create a culture for innovation to flourish. If you forced me to come up with a formula, I would say:
- Make sure you hire people that are not only smart, they think creatively and are not afraid of change
- Relinquish control to your managers within a framework
- Encourage multi-disciplinary teams and internal networking between your sales, marketing and R&D team
- Make sure your employees understand innovation process management, costs of commercialising ideas, etc. so they do not chase unviable options
- Encourage networking within the industry (exhibitions, conventions) and with academic institutions
- Reward individuals and teams for successful innovations that provide a competitive edge.
Think of innovative companies and study them!
You don’t have to think long and hard before coming up with companies you most admire for their culture of innovation – what are their strategies? How do they do it? Why do their employees love working for them?
This is how Philips describes how they go about it:
By adopting an Open Innovation strategy and harnessing our relationships with institutes, academia and industrial partners, we leverage company-wide synergies in technology, research, design and IP to bring innovations to market faster and more effectively.
Similarly, read up on Google, Apple, Microsoft…
You do not need to have the megabucks that these corporations have in order to create the right environment for innovation to thrive, but you can learn from them.cessful innovations that provide a competitive edge.
What does innovation look like?
Innovation can take many forms. We often think of innovation as a novel product or technology, such as the invention of the television, mobile phone, microwave, Internet, but what about unicorns such as Uber, Airbnb and WeWork?
Sometimes innovation takes the form of coming up with an idea, recognising the timing is perfect, and making the right hires of execs and non-execs to bring the idea to fruition. It’s the creation of a new business model with superb planning, execution, internal environment/culture and the right kind of finance for that particular business.
Note: Innovation may also take the form of integrating several known technologies to create a new product or service.
A great tip is to not get bogged down too soon with how you will go about commercialising the idea – this is how great ideas can be shut down too soon because people get overwhelmed. Embrace the idea itself if it appears to be a good one, let it percolate, enjoy what the future would look like if you succeeded in commercialising it. Now start to look at how you can make it happen, what are the obstacles and how can they be overcome.
Discover ‘problems’ that require a solution
If we have an existing business and we want to stay competitive, we could start by finding problems in our marketplace that require a solution. Who best to know what problems need solving by starting with the R&D and sales and marketing teams. If anyone is going to be asked whether a solution to a problem exists, it will be those teams. Having open discussions and interaction within and between these teams is imperative.
Asking clients and dealers what they like and dislike about your products and/or services is equally important. They may be doing workarounds in order to use the product ‘in spite of’ x, y, z, features; they may be actively looking for a better solution.
I used inverted commas for the word ‘problem’ in the subheading because sometimes ideas are borne out of new technologies making our lives easier. Due to mobile phones becoming smart, people soon got used to doing things online to reduce hassle, such as ordering groceries online, saving the hassle of supermarket visits and potential trolley-rage.
Uber started with a simple idea – what if one could order a taxi via an app?
WeWork came into being because two entrepreneurs worked in the same building in Brooklyn and noticed some empty space in the building – they then set about creating sustainable coworking spaces featuring recycled furniture and electricity that came from wind power by creating Green Desk. After selling Green Desk they realised that ‘green’ should be a part of everything, and ‘community’ should be at the heart of the future workplace. I have to admit, every time I have visited a WeWork space I could not help but notice how the energy is almost palpable – it is an alluring workspace.
Staying abreast of the developments within your industry is extremely important. What are others developing? What problems are being discussed? Which of your company’s new ideas are viable? Have some already been developed but didn’t make it to the marketplace? Why?
Does prior know-how exist and has it been protected by intellectual property (IP) in some form or other? Has it been published? Has it been produced? Did it fail?
Going to industry specific conferences and exhibitions and talking to industry peers will help you to understand future trends, where the industry is going, what is currently being discussed and developed, what issues need solving, etc.
Let’s assume for now you have implemented a thorough investigation of the IP databases, search engines and literary searches and your idea is indeed novel.
Now is the time to think about if there is any reason why it might not have been invented, such as:
- Is there a real need for it?
- What is the potential market demand for it?
- What would it cost to develop the idea?
- Would you get a return on R&D investment and tooling costs?
There needs to be an elimination process in place, to rule out ideas that do not make commercial sense and in order to prioritise the development process as resources will be limited.
What strategic partnerships would make sense to ensure the success of the commercialisation process? Do some of the technologies exist and can be brought in via partnerships to reduce risk and time-to-market? Are there grants available for such partnerships and/or for the R&D development?
Lastly, be open to innovation and what form it can take. A remark that appears, in the first instance, to be flippant, could be the start of a unicorn. Many great ideas have started with the sentence – ‘Wouldn’t it be great if…’.