Over the next three blogs we’ll be sharing thoughts and practical advice about innovation, in line with a series of seminars we are presenting as part of the Business Essentials series at Bournemouth and Poole College. The full presentations will be posted on the website and our YouTube site too.
Part 1 – In which we look at what innovation really is, how to approach it and what not to do.
Innovation is the lifeblood of any business, yet it’s hard to ensure it happens. This session will give you practical advice that you can implement immediately, helping you to build innovation into your business planning. There is a process for innovation, it isn’t difficult and doesn’t rely on you having to invent the next big thing. It is about finding ways that you can improve all aspects of your business, so that you can lead and let your competitors follow.
Why innovation matters
Innovation is the lifeblood of any business. But is it truly adapt or die? Of the last generation life expectancy has increased by about 33%. But in the same time the life expectancy of any large company has halved to about 20 years. So putting this in personal terms, how many jobs will you have, as the days of working for one business doing one thing are probably over for the majority of us. So we have to be more adaptable, more thoughtful in what we do, and for businesses – they have to be more thoughtful as well. Businesses need to respond quickly and appropriately to challenges and opportunities. They have to respond quicker and better than their competitors or they will wither and die.
Who are innovators?
We can all think of great innovators – Steve jobs, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg..etc. but have you looked in the mirror recently, because you are one too if you did but know it. It’s not that difficult, and it’s a lot easier if you know that there is a process behind it, which is what we will be discussing here.
What is innovation?
Let’s start with what it’s not. It’s not all about technology. It’s not all about being creative. It’s not something that has never been done before. It’s not the next big thing.
Two definitions – the first from Peter Drucker –“Change that creates a new dimension of performance”. That sounds like it could be a bit easier. An easier definition is…..
“Something different that has a measurable impact”. That’s a much easier definition. Note it doesn’t mention technology and creativity. Different? Different according to whom? That depends on what you’re proposing to innovate – it could be a friend, your boss, your customers.
I like “something different that has a measurable impact” so let’s keep that in mind.
Masters of innovation
What can we learn from those who have gone before?
Back to Peter Drucker –“customers rarely buy what businesses think they are selling”. And by that he means that businesses seldom clearly understand customer’s motives for buying.
Drucker also thought that plans need to go into hard work immediately, which neatly brings us to Thomas Edison, one of the greatest innovators of all time, who said genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Or to put it another way, if you’re not sweating it’s not going to be working.
Other people have thought of looking at old data in new ways – overthrowing the orthodoxy of the business. They thought of taking ors and turning them into ands. In other words stop thinking of things as being mutually exclusive (I can do this or that) and turn them into things which you can do as well. Add in that part of the infamous Donald Rumsfeld quote” you don’t know what you don’t know”, which in innovation terms turns into apply lessons from non-obvious fields – take information and learnings from one area and apply them to another.
My clients now know to innovate something at least every 12 months just to try and keep ahead of the competition. But like the rest of us, we are fearful we might fail, we have limited resources, and we tend to overthink and under do. A client in the West Country epitomises this. They have a number of new products which could quadruple their turnover and do even more benefit to their profits but because every tiny little detail that they think is essential to launch them has not been done the products have not been launched for the past two years. They are concerned that any new initiative will be pounced upon by competitor if they haven’t got it exactly right. But the only people who will tell them what is exactly right are their customers. Remember Drucker? –“customers rarely buy what businesses think they are selling”.
Is what you’re thinking of doing attainable?
Do you understand the practices and principles of what you’re trying to do? Can you do some associational thinking around this – questioning ideas, methods, people – networking with other people who may do things differently in different industries – observing what other people do and asking why they do it that way – doing a quick and dirty experiment to see whether it might work?
What sort of innovation is it?
Is it a different type? New products? New distribution methods? New revenue models?
Has it strategic intent? Are you looking for better ways to market existing products? Are you making small improvements to existing products? Are you looking for a breakthrough performance in existing categories, or creating a new category (that is, new to you).
Seven deadly sins
Pride – don’t force your view on customers, take an external viewpoint
Sloth – don’t allow innovation to slow down, remember to sweat the 99%
Lust – don’t get seduced by too many bright shiny objects, which means do one thing at a time until it is done. Focus! Focus! Focus!
Gluttony – abundance of resources slows things down – use resources as though they were scarce
Envy – don’t get sucked in to an us and them issue where the innovators are the blue-eyed boys, celebrate the existing and the new
Wrath – don’t punish people for taking risks, reward behaviour not outcomes
Greed – don’t be too impatient as you might end up going for low potential markets, be patient for growth but impatient for results
All about ways of thinking about your business, you and the other people in it and innovation.
Know when you’re wrong – be assured that your first plan will be wrong. To quote Mike Tyson “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”.
Opportunities can be missed because it looks like work – remember Thomas Edison and expect to sweat. If it looks like work, it might be very good for you.
And if you’re in a larger organisation you may need to fight the sucking sound of the core. This is when “we’ve always done it that way” grinds you down and your innovation schemes get diluted. Kodak did that. They had the whole Facebook model ready to roll well before Mark Zuckerberg thought of it. They had more resource, more money, more brains but they thought of it in terms of being photo centric instead of people centric because that’s what Kodak did.
In part 2 we’ll be looking at the process of innovation, with tips and help on how to approach innovation, and assessing and testing ideas. Look out for the next post soon. You can see our presentations on innovation on our website and Youtube site.