How can being innovative be a realistic company objective?
Last week I looked at what innovation means and considered whether this was something that could be actively encouraged and why it was important. Most companies know that to stay ahead of the competition they have to have both a unique selling point (USP) and loyal customers. Apple has made a fortune from being innovative and it is the primary reason their customers buy from them. The “latest” iPhone or anything from the i-family is coveted, queued for and discussed at great length in all the popular press, offline and online.
Can being innovative be an objective for less technically focused companies? Innovation is not just technology, it is more of a mind set and an approach so it needs a shift in thinking for it to be an achievable objective. The difficulty is the measurement of the innovative approach; does it actually contribute to the bottom line?
A colleague of mine tells the story of travelling to work one day on the Northern line. Sat opposite her was a gentleman in a sober navy pinstripe, doing the Times crossword, his legs crossed revealing one navy and one red sock. “You’re wearing odd socks” she blurted out. He laughed.
“Great isn’t it? Mind you, young lady, you’re wearing odd shoes” and he went back to his crossword.
She looked down at her own feet and realised that having got dressed early, in the dark, she was wearing one black and one navy shoe. Her first reaction was panic, she had no time to return home and change and it was too early to buy replacement shoes. So, she decided to tough it out until lunchtime. What followed that day changed her thinking. Firstly, she saw that many people did not even notice the odd shoes. Secondly, people who she normally didn’t talk to, talked to her, the odd shoes became an ice breaker. She spent the day with her antennae on full alert and noticed all sorts of things about her workplace and her perspective shifted. That day she closed twice as many deals as she had all week.
Now, I’m not advocating the wearing of odd socks, or shoes as a mechanism for innovation but sometimes stepping out of a comfortable routine can yield surprising results. If a company wants being innovative to form part of their culture, they cannot keep doing things the same way.
Cultivating new ideas requires a system to find them; log them; assess their validity and implement them.
Finding new ideas
- A company’s own staff is a great source of ideas- so establish workshops, brainstorming sessions and involve people from all Being innovative always starts with people.
- Competitors do things both well and badly- identify their flaws and fill the gap
- Customers know what they would like your product to do – ASK THEM
- Trending concepts can be found all over the Internet- establish an alert system to track trends in your industry
- Capturing innovation requires systems. Plus, being innovative sometimes takes more than one shot at an idea.
- Keeping records of the workshops and brainstorming and NOT throwing out the ideas from left field but revisiting them later can trigger a viable proposition.
- Sometimes you need to walk away and reflect and then the pieces fall into place.
- When enlisting others to generate an innovation you need to avoid it becoming tokenism. Respect others contributions, however extreme and then reconsider them using the What if approach. What if you could remove the barriers to implementation- would the idea fly? Would it make money, satisfy customers, position you as market leader? If so, then find a way to overcome the barriers.
A company needs to be very clear on what it wants to achieve and measure new ideas against that overall objective. Being innovative for innovation’s sake is wasted effort if it does not meet company needs.
Implementing innovative ideas
This is the crunch point. A new idea may come up against systems of working that lack the flexibility to handle a different approach. Being innovative is not just about a new product idea. It could be a manufacturing process; a customer service system; an upgrade path for existing customers. Linear thinking may not work. Start at the end result you want to achieve and work backwards. This is counter-intuitive for many companies but it helps when you look at the idea from a different viewpoint.
Being innovative should apply across the company
Look at every aspect of company operations from personnel to staff welfare to rewards systems to manufacturing processes to delivery mechanisms. You can be innovative with the same product but a different approach to delivering it for example. Every company needs a shake up now and then- so think of ways of being innovative and occasionally, get out of your comfort zone and wear odd socks.