That innovation is important and necessary for survival goes without saying. While there is no universal solution for organizations looking to improve their ability to generate, develop, and disseminate new ideas, some strategies are superior to others.
“The process of innovation should continuously introduce new value or benefits to your customer. If you’re not doing that, you can expect to be disrupted,” says Pierre Aurel, Strategic Project Manager, e4. “Without investing in innovation, you will always be susceptible to competition. The right strategy requires time, funding and a process to create the innovation required for future growth.”
Securing a competitive edge is one goal of innovation; the other is finding new markets as well, allowing a business to move both vertically and laterally across markets. Aurel notes that in order to future-proof themselves, organizations need to objectively evaluate their strengths and weaknesses before embarking on a strategy of innovation. “So instead of the tired old SWOT analysis, an evaluation of how well the business performs in three stages of innovation: Ideation, Creation and Diffusion. A business needs to understand its own internal dynamics first and ultimately where it wants to go.”
An innovation value chain offers a comprehensive framework for doing just that. By breaking innovation down into the three phases of idea generation, conversion, and diffusion, the strategy encourages organizations to look at ways to improve their weaker areas first, either through collaboration, outsourcing or acquisition. Aurel points at Google’s approach to managing the innovation process and budget allocation operating on the 70/20/10 model. “70 percent of projects are dedicated to core business, 20 percent of projects are related to core business, and 10 percent of projects are unrelated to core business. This staggered approach ensures they are able to keep the lights on while searching for the next breakthrough.”
Crucially, businesses should look at innovation as a long-term process rather than a knee-jerk reaction to a changing environment. A helpful starting point is listening to customers and beginning the innovation process from there. “Customer centricity is key, so talk to your customers, listen to their needs and views. Don’t create an exclusive innovation team that operates in isolation. If they are not collaborating with the rest of your organization, it’s a major problem,” Aurel explains adding that innovation shouldn’t be the exclusive function of one team or executive, rather it should be inclusive, transparent and allow ideas to come from anyone. “Don’t shoot down ideas without using some metric or model to validate the potential of the idea,” he says.
To be sure, finding the right balance for innovation to succeed is a challenging prospect for organizations. Aurel suggests looking for external help while ensuring the innovation process is funded and staffed appropriately. “I think every organization has the ability to be innovative. Partner with a company in a different industry and create an innovation exchange program. Swap employees for a couple of days, let them become immersed in different worlds – their new perspectives and opinions may surprise you.”