Innovation is a hot topic these days. More than just a buzzword, it’s what sets successful businesses apart, giving them a competitive advantage. But the business world is often focused on results and returns, making it difficult to create a culture focused on new ideas and long-term gains. Because innovation is still an unnatural mindset for most leaders, companies can’t just hope that innovation will happen. It requires commitment, attention, and, most of all, action. Doing the work it takes to embrace innovation may feel daunting. But the good news is that recent research shows that innovators aren’t born, they’re made, and innovation is a skill that can be learned – by anyone.
In a world where things move so fast, standing still is not an option. Many countries face low growth economic conditions for the foreseeable future. For many firms, future growth will depend on increasing market share and on addressing new markets. This in turn will depend on meeting new - or more - needs of existing customers, attracting new customers from the competition and winning customers in new markets. To survive, organisations need to be constantly finding ways to adapt, improve and reinvent what they do and how they do it.
Organisations are facing the dual challenge of innovating and getting closer to customers. We believe there is a need to link these activities and to involve the whole organisation in enhanced delivery. It is not enough to introduce or refine processes; a change to the corporate culture will be needed to assure enhanced performance.
My point of view
The proposition I have developed is that, even now, organisations mostly treat innovation (and creativity) as separate to the business. Labs, hot houses, war rooms full of clever people doing clever things, inventing, creating, writing code; where is the customer or the consumer in all this? There is little connection to the business, and, inevitably, silos appear. Typically you will see the creation of an innovation director or a department tasked with ‘innovating’, usually new products. But what organisations all actually want to end up with is an environment where people build unconscious competence to naturally innovate anything anywhere that drives growth and meets new and unmet customer needs.
It even manifests itself in the way organisations budget for innovation – separately as opposed to across the business.
So what do organisations need? "Joined up innovation" that links everything everyone does to our Purpose and our Values? Not a process, but something supported by process? Basically the right 'conditions' need to be in place to promote, reward, support and drive innovative thinking and behaviour.
It is a major priority in almost every organisation we speak to; but when the chips are down innovation gets relegated to a risky luxury – ‘it seems to be recognised by leadership as being important but actually it gets swamped’.
‘Innovatives’ and ‘creatives’ have either a larger comfort zone or a smaller one; I’m not quite sure which way round though! But they are not afraid to step into the unknown with no guarantee of success. As an observation, I would say they also have a very high self-esteem. By that I mean they are very confident in their abilities and a rebuff will not reduce this self-esteem. This does not mean they are over confident with large egos; it just means they have a resilience that allows them to get up and get on with creating the next thing.
It's about the leader's agility and appetite for risk taking - the leadership sets the tone: PVV (Purpose, Values, Vision), organisational structure, mindset, culture, approach to risk, etc. Top-down sets direction, bottom-up delivers execution. The organisation’s belief system needs to fully support innovation.
Creating an environment where innovation is seen as a fundamental part of the day job by everyone is one of the greatest challenges facing organisations today. In a world which is moving so fast, the price of standing still will be great. The evidence suggests that those organisations able to embed innovation within the organisation’s DNA will not only create a major competitive advantage but also unlock the door to long term sustainable success.
Our question to everyone is how do stakeholders in the creation of a customer-inspired innovative organisation, provide the structure, culture and leadership to not just tolerate but encourage and harness ‘innovatives’? Innovate innovation is the challenge.