I am going to start with a some of questions in relation to innovation and how many perceive innovation.
Q. Why does it seem that innovation is restricted mainly to the large corporates?
Q. Why do many fear away from the idea of innovation?
Q. How can we be innovative? It is too expensive!
Q. How is innovation going to fix our problem? We need more sales for that!
So what is Innovation?
Innovation is derived from the term innovate, meaning “make change in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products” (Ref: Oxford Dictionary)
I have explored innovation and how it might be approached in another article which focused on the concept of Offensive Innovation ( or Revolution Innovation where problems are solved in new, better and more effective ways ) and Defensive Innovation ( or Evolution Innovation where existing solutions receive minor updates, improvements and cosmetic changes ).
I believe many feel they can not or are not worthy or capable of being innovative.
Many see innovation as a phenomenon that only the large corporates or tech giants can undertake, because it is costly or out of their reach. Companies like: Amazon, Apple, Bosch, Cochlear, Fitbit, P&G, Dyson, CSL Google/
Despite this, there are some smaller players who are leading the innovation charge and are showing that innovation is not limited to these large companies; Black Magic Design, Breathometer, Henge Dock, Methven, Carbon Revolution, Vari Desk, Gourmet Garden to name a few.
Regardless of the size, scope and location of the company, innovation is something which everyone and every company can do from the mum and dad small business to the likes of Apple. The only difference is the scale and magnitude of the innovation activities.
That is, the large corporates have the resources to undertake innovations in a far grander scale compared to a small business. However despite this, the fundamentals of innovation are the same and because of this, is not biased to how deep your pockets are or how much of a shadow you cast.
Innovation companies which are great, will ensure and encourage that all people within the company have a voice and an opportunity to contribute their ideas so the company can assess and evaluate how it going to solve the next problem, or develop the next opportunity. The larger enterprises will then have dedicated innovation teams and resources to take the ideas and develop them using the innovation process and in the process understand as best as possible the risks and be able to make sound decisions and map out the go to market plan.
Smaller companies can still do this but in a way which is manageable for them and within their budget constraints.
The Innovation Process:
The innovation process is very similar to the well known PDCA project cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act) in that the basic steps are the same regardless of whether this approach is used in a small or large organisation. Continuous improvement (like Innovation ) does not discriminate or favour any particular type or size of business.
Plan: Recognise an opportunity and plan a change.
Do: Test the change. Carry out a small-scale study.
Check: Review the test, analyse the results and identify what you’ve learned.
Act: Take action based on what you learned in the study (Step 2 & 3)
At a macro level, the innovation process is the same regardless the size of the business.
The basic stages in the process are:
identify the subject matter or problem
understand the needs and frustrations
evaluate and explore how the needs can be addressed and solved
prototype and evaluate the concepts
use NPD to commercialise selected concepts
Remember: Invention ≠ Innovation.
I like to define innovation as " activity which adds value " and therefore with this in mind there are innovation opportunities in our personal and professional environments everywhere. It doesn't matter how big or small your business is, if you understand the fundamentals of innovation it all comes down to asking the right questions and probing for the responses. The type of questions must not be limited to be from your perspective, but instead consider asking questions from the customer perspective. After-all, your customer is who’s problems your are trying to solve.
This is what differentiates an invention from an innovation. An invention is an idea or a concept for something. An innovation is much more than an idea because it needs to add value for the customer and to the business or in other words be commercially viable.
In my time, I have come across some who at any opportunity claim to be innovative leaders and get on their soap box and beat their chest about how great they are because of their long list of patents. But when you dig further, most of these so called great ideas only ever exist in a patent file, don’t contribute to growing the company and do not add value. Instead, they do the opposite of adding value, they consume cost every year to keep their non value adding idea registered. If your strategy is all about blocking then good for you. But please don’t pretend or claim to be innovative when you are not.
Here's an interesting quote from Steve Jobs about innovation and highlights how the successful and innovative companies think..."Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations."
Don't forget that although Apple is probably the most well known global brand today and has a net worth larger than the annual economic budgets of many countries it started off with a few guys working out of one of their parents garage. These guys did it in an era where I am sure they faced many challenges and roadblocks. There was no globalisation and no internet and it was a time when the world was a very big and distant place. Fast forward 20 to 30 years and with market globalisation, start-ups, crowd funding, social media, the internet and the digital world makes it an imperative to innovate in order to survive and differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack.
This might sound scary, but it's not! Knowing how to approach innovation coupled with some sound analysis of potential “go projects” will significantly reduce or eliminate risks. If you need to patent ideas, try to patent the ideas which are commercially viable so that one day they will add value to you and your customer. By making innovation a key attribute of your organisational culture you can build an innovation platform which generates an innovation pipeline to support your growth.
The WRAP UP:
To answer the question in my title. Yes, innovation is something everyone can do and it does not prejudice against or favour anyone or any size of business. The fundamentals of innovation are able to be utilised no matter what size the company is. It simply comes down to asking the right questions in relation to the subject matter and of course keeping a customer focus.
If you need help with understanding or exploring how innovation can work in your business to deliver growth, contact me at ANBA Solutions.
What do you think?
Director - ANBA Pty Ltd
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Andrew Baldacchino, applies his years of industry experience and world class practises in simple, logical and effective ways to help businesses and their people to develop innovative solutions and implement strategies to improve sustainability and brand value in the market place.