Innovation

Innovation: planning and systems are the key

We all love the romantic idea of the innovator or inventor, toiling away until a ‘eureka!’ moment arrives. Many of us will have sat in on ‘brainstorming sessions’ – some of which will have succeeded wildly, some of which will have been dismal failures.

For every breakthrough, there are countless ideas that fail to take off. That’s not necessarily because they were bad ideas; it’s because successful innovation relies just as much on the execution as it does on creative thinking.

And innovation matters; in fact, it’s critical to your business’s longevity and continued success. In fact, according to Forbes, “the right innovative techniques can help you save precious time and money, and give you a competitive lead in expanding your business”.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s important to have an innovation platform, system or framework (call it what you will) to align the people, processes and technologies needed to turn great ideas into practical products, services and solutions. Forbes again: “innovation is not for geniuses working along. It is a group activity,” so you need to give your teams the tools they need to work and innovate together.

In a nutshell, you need to make it easy to identify innovative ideas, communicate them to the business and investigate their potential. Here are four questions to answer along the way to becoming an innovation powerhouse.

1: Why are you innovating?

There are plenty of reasons to embrace innovation, but all circle back to the same basic fact: innovation is a crucial driver of business success; as markets change, businesses must change with them. There are four distinct types of innovation and they can apply to any aspect of your operations:

  • Product innovation: essentially, ‘building a better mousetrap’ (e.g. annual product updates and new models).
  • Process innovation: where you improve an existing production method (e.g. the assembly line).
  • Marketing innovation: where you change the way you design, package and sell your product (e.g. personalized products and services).
  • Organisational innovation: where you modify your internal process or culture to change the way your organisation functions (e.g. adopting new workflow tools or management structures).

These can help you find your ‘why’. Products losing market share? Then look to product and/or marketing innovation. Production or sales costs too high? Perhaps process or organizational innovation can help. Once you understand why you’re looking to innovate, you’ll be better able to manage the process.

2: Where does innovation happen?

Great ideas can come from any place – employees, customer feedback, partners or the executive team. You should be able to locate these ideas, no matter who or where they’ve come from, and determine which ones align with your long-term vision. This might mean monitoring customer service conversations (and especially complaints); creating an anonymous online ‘suggestion box’; hosting regular product and process innovation sessions; or creating a culture of innovation that includes resources and support.

It’s also helpful to nominate ‘innovation champions’ – people who show the leadership, networking skills and domain knowledge to be effective innovation leaders. They can serve as a first point of contact for employees (and their ideas) across the business, as well as taking the lead on any innovation projects, at least for the initial stages.

3: Who will innovate?

The next thing you’ll want to do is identify any gaps between your growth goals and your current capabilities. Can you achieve those goals with your existing resources, or will they require the onboarding of fresh talent?

Balance is needed here; while it’s often helpful to bring in new people with fresh perspectives, you should never discount the value of veteran team members who carry invaluable ‘corporate memory’ and experience. You might also need to update your hiring and/or training processes – for example, bringing in temporary or contract workers who can lend specialist technical skills to your teams as needed.

4: How will you innovate?

Finally, it’s important to consider your processes and tools. Your process is the way you source and develop ideas:

  • Closed innovation: essentially the traditional in-house research and development approach.
  • Collaborative innovation: where you work with your closest partners and suppliers.
  • Open innovation: where you are open to customer feedback and ideas from other external sources.
  • Co-innovation: where you work with another business to create a product or service neither could produce on their own.

And your tools are the structures and methodologies you use to actually do the hands-on innovation work, like agile, lean startup or reverse innovation.

Any kind of innovation will always come with risk. But if you take the time to create a solid framework, you’ll position yourself for future success and growth.