I have heard many myths about innovation. But if I had to collate them to make a summary, it would basically reduce to two major ones: (i) “hmm, we don’t need it” (ii) “no, we can’t do it!”. Now, let’s disprove them both, starting with the first.
Suppose we prefer to play the global competition game simply over pricing. By making right sourcing decisions, controlling fixed costs & adjusting mark-ups, anyone else can fight a price war almost readily, and based on their financing ability, they can endure this forever. Furthermore, in a value-based / premium pricing industry, price competition will not be a viable option at all.
Alternatively, suppose that we challenge the world with our quality. Similarly, anybody can achieve the desired level of quality & meet customer expectations by accurately incorporating dimensions of – manufacturing and / or service – quality in their business. In this case, a wide range of statistical methods are also there to support this effort (a separate note on this can be found in an earlier post here).
So, competing on the price or quality front used to be enough. While both are still relevant, the market today expects more. Ok, but what on earth do we have that will differentiate us & make us unique? What will help us respond to this advanced market demand & be consistently preferred over others?
Nothing, except our innovation capability. Our ability to say new things, or to say things differently, like no other… And our capacity to reflect this in our products / services offering – or maybe in both according to how we shape our business model.
Hence, while having a competitive edge is key to survive the global competition game, your innovative edge is now basically your competitive edge. In other words, innovation is not a nice-to-have anymore, but a must-have or a matter of existence if you wish, instead of a luxury. Moreover, this is true both for start-ups to grow & for big mature companies to sustain. And this holds not just for businesses but extends to countries & their economies, as well.
your innovative edge is now basically your competitive edge. In other words, innovation is not a luxury anymore but a matter of existence...
Now, if we all agree on the answer to the first myth, let’s move to the next one. This second concern is raised because many believe that innovation is tough, and therefore only doable by the few. And the root cause of this belief is that innovation being often associated with radical / revolutionary or even disruptive products resulting from a big (and typically extra) effort, a long development path, and a huge R&D spend. Well, not necessarily!
Even though the above root cause is true for some cases, it excludes a major portion of what is in scope of innovation. Yes, being innovative is not a straightforward journey, but also not an impossible one.
You really do not need to be an inventor & come up with something completely new to the market or planet to be an innovator (by the way, inventions do not lead to innovations unless they are commercialized!). You do not need to bring a paradigm shift. You do not need to craft the next big thing!
If you are seeking innovation, improvements / developments over existing products or services (yes, services!) are also perfectly fine. Obviously, this can be accomplished via many iterations & on a continual basis as opposed to a one-off or 0-1 manner. The aim here is to achieve a better value proposition that your customers – existing or target – will be willing to pay for. Innovating in this manner will be incremental / evolutionary rather than radical / revolutionary or disruptive; yet, this route might work even better than a disruptive one in your case.
Although often overlooked, you may also innovate over processes. This will mostly look like continuous improvement / development efforts (a separate note on continuous improvement can be found here); however, in many cases, process innovation eventually contributes into products / services, as well. And you can observe this contribution in the form of either new or improved product features / service elements, altered price positions, more effective promotion methods & sales channels etc.
Lastly, you might also innovate on how your business is organized. With organizational innovation, for instance, you might achieve a much leaner & more efficient org. chart compared to the one you have now.
Besides, i hope reinventing the wheel is not something you do in general. But if this is what you do when you lack wheels at your business, even this is completely fine. Not for the market or the planet, though, it is still innovation at least for your company.
With an R&D powerhouse & technology scouting activities, your chance to be a successful innovator will increase for sure. Nevertheless, you do not need to have a standalone R&D (or innovation) function for this. In fact, successful innovation arises from a joint effort, and not constrained by the walls of an R&D / innovation unit.
Instead, you need a culture based on research & development / continuous improvement. But even more important than this, you need an inclusive / open culture. Given that the trigger for innovation is always creativity & ideation, intellectual / human capital is invaluable for innovation more than anything else. And what will enable creative input from people around is inclusiveness / openness at the first place. It is in fact what will make you a step ahead.
And to ensure right inputs, paying attention to what your people are suggesting is a great potential to begin with. Yet, you are not solely limited to your inner circle. In fact, you are surrounded with sources of great capability outside your organization, as well. Customers (via co-creation, ethnographic research etc.), competitors (via pre-competitive collaboration), start-ups & technology partners (via joint development), academia / universities & research institutions (via industry applied research projects) are some of the major providers of capability & input you may be looking for.
In short, you are definitely not on your own & the combined potential of this whole ecosystem is practically unlimited. All you need is to get connected with all these capabilities, integrate them around the same goal & develop ways to collaborate. Technological enablers that we have today help us streamline collaboration, so definitely no excuses to failing to kick-start this & to make it work.
being innovative is not a straightforward journey for sure, but also not an impossible one...
If you now started to believe that innovation might not be that hard, one important remark: innovation almost always needs to be timely. I see many companies trapped with too many stage-gate approvals especially for product innovation efforts. And this leads to developments taking a long time, instead of a rapid & iterative process progressing with customer experience & feedback. If it is not timely, it will not be innovative. And to assure timeliness, though, no need to mention the importance of project & program management capabilities.
So, going back to the myths at the very beginning of this post, well, you certainly need it to survive, and yes, you can do it! Innovation is proven to help, and you can make it work for your business (and country) by continuously looking for the better, the new & the next. It is just up to you to boost innovation. And when this is the case, it would be smart not to resist your single valid recipe at the expense of being defeated in the long run. Otherwise, all i can say is: you must be so brave!
cover photo by Ben White on Unsplash