The last two decades have been challenging times for British business and as the country approaches the momentous decision regarding EU membership, there are more challenges ahead. Whether we remain part of Europe, formally or not, the debate over membership has shone a light on our trade agreements and our competitiveness.

In a discussion on the top innovations over the last 30 years, Thomas Colligan, vice dean, Wharton Executive Education, says that:

 “Innovation creates new revenue streams,” … “It’s a mindset that needs to be started at the top of the organization to allow people to experiment and try different things. It’s the opportunity to break through existing models that not only allow for new innovations, but also challenge executives in organizations that have that type of mindset to attract top talent.”

Innovative approaches pay off in terms of revenue and profit and are crucial in increasingly competitive economies.

British inventiveness and innovation needs to be matched by an innovative approach to process

The British mad scientist, crazy professor, eccentric entrepreneur may be the stuff of cartoons, but it is undeniable that a creative and innovative streak is apparent in this country. Our manufacturing base has dwindled and many would argue that we are fast becoming a service industry only country – not true!

The growth of our film industry is testament to the combination of innovation and innovative approach to delivery. Within film are a great deal of processes, technical and creative. It is not just our actors and directors doing well globally, but our film studios and the whole support network that goes with them of technical expertise.

Innovative ideas can only get you so far, the true innovation is how those ideas are delivered. An innovative approach to business needs to consider implementation as much as the original idea.

Some great examples of this can be found by considering how other industries solve their problems – imitation is after all the sincerest form of flattery. This is known as cross-industry innovation

Cross-industry innovation is a clever way to jump-start your innovation efforts by drawing analogies and transferring approaches between contexts, beyond the borders of your own industry, sector, area or domain. These analogies can be drawn at various levels, from products to services, to processes, to strategies, to business models, to culture and leadership.


Perhaps one of our greatest success stories in terms of process innovation is Sir James Dyson- much imitated now with his cyclonic vacuum cleaner. The word “Hoover” was synonymous with the act of vacuuming, such that it became a verb. To “get the Dyson out” is the 21st century equivalent. Part of Dyson’s inspiration for the new process came from a nearby sawmill- he thought of how it used ad cyclone – a high cone that spins dust out of the air by centrifugal force – to expel waste.

Innovation does not have to be coming up with a whole new product or system- often the most successful innovative approach is to take something that is lacking in functionality and improving it.

Business tips to adopt an innovative approach

  1. Stop thinking, “We’ve always done it this way”
  2. Look at drawbacks in current process, product, system and focus on improving those.
  3. Look at other industries for inspiration
  4. Look to nature for inspiration (ergonomic design has a lot of examples in nature)
  5. Look internally to see where employees have made their own personal adaptations to make things easier- apply globally
  6. Look to the Arts where eccentricity brings a fresh perspective to old ideas
  7. Develop an internal culture of encouraging the sharing of ideas – innovation could be right on your doorstep.
  8. Take some risks with recruitment and employ the unconventional thinkers

An innovative approach may have some inherent risks and established companies tend to stick to what they know already works- and then watch their profits go to the new start up that has a different approach.

Big business needs to shift its thinking and encourage innovation, at least on a small scale within its organisation. Todays’ wacky idea could be tomorrow’s breakthrough. If business doubts that this is the way forward in today’s increasingly competitive market, I would say, think of Leonardo Da Vinci- regarded as eccentric to say the least- but a man ahead of his time. Wouldn’t it be great if a future da Vinci emerged from British business?

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