Ten things businesses should know about what innovation is and isn’t 1

Guest blogger:

Sarah_PlattsSarah Platts, Open University Business School MBA Alumnus, Change Consultant at FreshNetworks

innovationInnovation is a common topic of debate and strategy in most businesses (be they new or well established). In the current economic climate, and with the huge potential of the likes of social media data, brands are increasingly looking at innovation (large and small) as a way to beat the competition.

But innovation is often misunderstood. After a recent event debating the topic at the Open University Business School, I left with some insights into what the attendees thought that innovation was, and some misconceptions about what it has to be:

Five things that innovation is

  1. Inextricably linked with growth, according to the BBC’s Evan Davis. He surmised that innovation hasn’t come to a standstill in 2012, although we do have a growth problem which innovation itself will be crucial to solving.
  2. Delicate. It’s important to nurture it gently so as not to kill it off too quickly, but also carefully contain and manage it to prevent any huge financial, market, or reputational fires.
  3. More prevalent during recessions. The atmosphere of fear engendered by recession is often the trigger required to force organisations to adapt and survive (as opposed to ending up at the decline end of the sigmoid curve, such as Kodak), as well as being ideal for start-ups. Recessions tend to shake out the worst performers, and those simply coasting along with the status quo.
  4. Often within your team already. Any business is likely to have great ideas and innovators already within the team. An open and creative organisational culture and office space is crucial to finding, developing, and encouraging these employees, who will always move to another company (possibly a competitor) to innovate if they can’t do so where they are.
  5. Often the victim of resistance and sabotage. Some tactics to look out for and actively surface and manage include Peter Keen’s “lay low”, and “keep the project complex, hard to coordinate, and vaguely defined”. Plus also the wonderfully expressed “Say yes! But do nothing”.

Five things that innovation doesn’t have to be

  1. Big or complex. Sometimes the best innovation can come through a series of incremental steps which ultimately amount to something quite large, impactful and radical. Such gradual change can often be more palatable in businesses.
  2. Hugely expensive or driven forward by companies. As demonstrated by the user-led innovations of the maker movement, and also Jugaad Innovation’s more flexible, frugal, and bottom-up approach.
  3. A risky business. At least not to the innovators – who have complete faith in their idea. It’s the financial backers who are taking the risks. However, if we’re taking an incremental approach, perhaps that can help reduce the overall risk by breaking innovation up into more manageable and less intimidating or costly chunks.
  4. A driver to cut costs. As it’s enabling many companies to retain their current cost bases but stretch those resources further into more countries and ventures.
  5. About technology. Thinking and process innovations show it’s not just about technology (e.g. queuing), and service innovations prove it’s not only about products either. Nevertheless, technology is certainly vital, and SAP UK’s CTO Adrian Simpson explored how innovation is being shaped by greater mobility (e.g. increase in mobile devices), social media and networks, the cloud, and huge data sets (including social data).

Ultimately, innovation seems to depend on persistence, belief, adaptability, and relevance to customers and the market. While its success relies on people, behaviour and skills, and spotting and pursuing the opportunity before it’s too late. Undoubtedly money and resources help, but perhaps more of a barrier exists in the minds of employees and cultures of organisations?

(This article was originally published on FreshNetworks on 20th Dec 2012.)

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Business Management

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