If so, I have some bad news. Innovation is not just another catchphrase of the day. It’s a new business imperative, and it’s not going away any time soon. The good news is that most leaders and managers are finally starting to accept this fact, although some more grudgingly than others. They understand the need for innovation, and they see the wisdom in coming up with new products and services that add more value to their customers as well as in gaining efficiencies for processes and approaches.
The problem is that most leaders and organizations don’t know how to do innovation very well. At least, not on a consistent basis.
I recently came across an insightful report from the consulting firm A. T. Kearney, entitled “Best Innovators: A Synopsis of the Second Annual European Best Innovators Roundtable.” The report looked at how five global companies are successfully making innovation an integral part of the way they do business.
Although these were all very large, international companies, the principles distilled from the report apply to companies of all sizes.
Aim high. First and foremost, strive for disruptive innovation. Most companies settle for incremental innovation, which does little more than tweak existing products and services. Disruptive innovation redefines your market and the value you bring to customers.
Have a vision and set clear goals. Innovation doesn’t just happen. It requires planning, follow-through, and hard work. As with anything in business, it helps to know where you’re going and what you need to do to get there.
Don’t rely solely on customer research for new ideas. By itself, customer research is not sufficient for generating disruptive innovation because it only uncovers expressed, or known, customer needs. Stay in close contact with your customers, and listen closely to what they say they want and need. But don’t depend on customer feedback as your only source of new ideas.
Develop a culture of communication. This is especially true in larger corporations and in those that seek new ideas from outside the company. Innovation isn’t cheap. The last thing you want is duplication of ideas and/or efforts because different parts of the organization weren’t talking to each other.
Provide full management support. Innovation can’t succeed if employees see it as just another “flavor of the month” management fad. Management must have the ability to distinguish between disruptive and incremental innovation, and commit sufficient expertise and resources to deal with both.
Develop an appropriate reward system. It takes more than lip service to instill a culture of innovation throughout a company. If employees don’t get rewarded for new ideas, they won’t come up with any. The reward system also needs to match the innovation model you adopt.
For example, Proctor & Gamble uses an innovation model that seeks new ideas from outside the company as well as inside. To support that model, all successful innovations are equally rewarded, regardless of whether the product idea was internally or externally generated. This ensures that the best ideas rise to the surface no matter where they come from. It also helps to shift the culture away from the old “invented here” model, which typically leads only to incremental innovation.
When people think about innovation, they usually picture a bunch of “creative types” sitting around a boardroom table and having brainstorm sessions to come up with all kinds of wild ideas. Although brainstorming can certainly help to generate new ideas, developing an ongoing process of innovation requires much more.
Start by identifying the innovation model that best fits your business. Develop strategic targets to guide your innovation process. Understand the value of customer relationships, but actively seek ideas from many different sources. And train your management team to recognize and skillfully handle breakthrough ideas that lead to disruptive innovations. Learn how to use the power of your own brain to create new possibilities and ways of doing things. Push yourself and others with “What if…?” thinking constantly.
Innovation does not come naturally to most of us. And if you are a manager, it is typically beat out of you early on. You have to give yourself and others the skills and tools necessary to ponder possibilities, generate ideas, value them against your strategies, and implement them quickly.
The next generation of market leaders will do more than just brainstorm their way to success. They will make innovation a way of life. Isn’t it time you got started?