Innovation is the lifeblood of business. Without innovation, a business becomes stale, outdated and irrelevant to consumers.

In Detail

Businesses must keep a constant focus on innovating product, service and operations in order to grow and outperform competitors.

Types of innovation

Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes, from radical / breakthrough innovation, in which large-scale leaps are made, to incremental innovation, where tweaks and improvements are made to an existing product or service. Innovation can also be applied to a number of different business functions, such as product, process and service.

In addition, it is possible to look at innovation in terms of its relationship to the business, i.e. core, adjacent or transformational - often targeting new markets or sectors.

Where innovation comes from

There are many sources of innovation, such as the problems or frustrations experienced by customers as they go about their daily life or work. Noticing these opportunities enables us to create products and services that make life easier or better for these target consumers - solving their problem (often called a ‘job to be done’).

New technology and other developments can often reveal opportunities, as can changes in the competitive landscape. By employing analogy and abstract thinking, companies can often make the necessary conceptual leaps required to spot opportunities and rethink their approach.

Some useful innovation techniques:

  • Customer journey mapping: follow the path a customer takes as he/she decides to purchase a product or service
  • Frustrations and desire paths: examine ‘workarounds’ and ‘hacks’ as customers seek to solve their own problem
  • Competitors: see how they innovate, watch how their customers react, try their product or service for yourself
  • Similar industries: look at adjacent industries and companies to see how they make things easier or more attractive for customers
  • Different markets and countries: take inspiration from unfamiliar environments and business practices to see how and why their approach differs
  • Framing - zooming in: focus on specific details of your product, service or operation. How can you make marginal gains? What can you spot by focusing on individual steps?
  • Framing - zooming out: how do things look from 50,000 feet? What can you see by considering the wider context of industry, economy, continent and global perspectives?
  • Problem statements: taking specific business aspects and taking a ‘solve this’ approach

The Innovator’s DNA

The authors of The Innovator’s DNA interviewed 25 top businesspeople including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos & P&G’s AG Lafley, as well as 3,000 executives with responsibility for innovation. The results of this research provides a useful rundown of the necessary skills for innovating within organisations:

  • Associating: synthesising and connecting
  • Questioning: challenging the status quo
  • Observing: watching and noticing
  • Networking: finding ideas, seeking viewpoints
  • Experimenting: trying and piloting new ideas

Things that block and constrain innovation

  • Patterns: the natural human tendency to form patterns and stereotypes can stop us from coming up with original new ideas that break normal convention
  • Risk & failure: the desire to avoid failure at all costs can prevent individuals and companies from taking the necessary risks to create new innovations. All new ideas are risky to some extent - but without them we have no chance of surviving and growing.
  • Comfort zones: related to risk & failure, be wary of the temptation of comfort zones - the tendency to stick to what we already know or are already good at.
  • Layers: most large corporations have significant levels of hierarchy, which slow innovation as each layer goes through its own approval process, and find it easier to say no than yes.
  • Rules & traditions: Traditions often block new thinking because people are reluctant to change from what they already do, and have done for years. But when something has always been done the same way it’s worth asking if there’s an alternative.
  • Agendas: Some individuals may seek to protect their own position in the company by shutting down anything that puts them at risk.

Next Steps

  • Testing and refining your idea: At the idea stage, pitch it to your colleagues. Ask them: What stands out? What’s unclear? What could be improved? Then think: How will it scale? How long will it take? What are other businesses doing in this area?
  • Making a case for innovation: As you seek support for your idea, have the following information ready: How will it benefit the business? What are the necessary steps / resources to make this happen? Who needs to be involved and why? Can we start small, test and learn? What are the risks? What if it doesn’t work?
  • Getting others on board: Be persistent - don’t take no for an answer. But, don’t be belligerent: consider their perspective, ask for critical feedback, their support and input. And sell the sizzle, not the sausage - make them excited about your idea and its potential. Tell the story of your idea.
  • Maintaining momentum: wherever you can along the way, celebrate progress / small wins associated with your idea’s development. Over-communicate with all relevant parties - tell them about all the details of your project. Simplify your idea where possible and prioritise the most important aspects - what’s the Minimum Viable Product that you can launch and start to get feedback on? Get others involved where possible - they will help you build momentum and share the load. And learn from failure - things won’t go perfectly, so learn from the bumps along the way.

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