Are you too scared to innovate?

Whilst most companies espouse innovation as a strategic priority, managers often treat radical new ideas as they would a runaway snake. Yet broader involvement in the innovation process not only leads to better financial results, but can also help develop team commitment and improve job satisfaction.

For example, over the past couple of months I have run several workshops helping companies develop new product and business ideas. At the start of the session, I can see managers almost willing their Blackberry to beep and call them away to an emergency. By the end of the workshop, the same people are truly enthusiastic about their new ideas. What’s more, I keep hearing the same phrase over and over – “We should do this more often.”

Like an overweight person who keeps putting off that next visit to the gym, it is starting the innovation process that is most difficult. However, to be successful you have little choice. In a world of endless consumer choice and an ever-quickening pace of change, the need to be distinctive, flexible and adaptable – in short to innovate – is self-evident.

So how can you start to embed innovation capabilities in your organisation? Below are five practical things you can do – two are personal and three are organisational.

First the personal:

  1. Regularly introduce brainstorming into your meetings. Rather than simply going through the cycle of depression (or smugness) that results from results analysis, do something more practical in your meetings to create energy, focus and action. If you want some useful tools I recommend the book ‘Jump Start Your Business Brain’ by Doug Hall.
  2. Set an hour aside each week for creative thinking. Few of us set aside real thinking time as part of our working week. By taking 60 minutes to brainstorm solutions to your number one issue each week, and turning those ideas into actions, you will have easily ‘out-innovated’ 95.72% of managers.
  3. Second the organisational:

  4. Focus innovation on your big, constant market trends. In a recent Harvard Business Review article CEO Jeff Bezos stated that he based Amazon’s strategy on what was not going to change over the next 5-10 years, and not (as most companies do) on what will change. By doing this he is able to give a long-term focus to the organisation for radical innovation. As Bezos notes, “Our customers want selection, low prices and fast delivery. So we know that when we put energy into defect reduction, which reduces our cost structure and thereby allows lower prices, that will be paying us dividends ten years from now.”
  5. Provide innovation training. Whirlpool, the home appliance giant, has pursed an innovation-based strategy since 1999. The company now has 800 innovation mentors who have coached many thousands of people to use innovation-based tools. According to Whirlpool’s annual report, this systematic approach helped create $1.6 billion sales in new products in 2006, up 115% on the previous year, with a pipeline of $3.5 billion.
  6. Keep it simple. In his book, Weird Ideas That Work, Bob Sutton discusses Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary Guidant’s move to market leadership in coronary stents (tubes to open blocked arteries). Conflicts between R&D and Manufacturing over the NPD process led the CEO to appoint a single executive to lead both departments and introduce an incentive system that gave people in both teams the same benefits from NPD successes. As Sutton notes, “This shift to a simple, fast-moving development process has been crucial to maintaining Guidant’s market dominance, since a new stent is rarely sold more than a year before it is replaced with a superior design.”

The bottom line

Innovation is not just the role of R&D and your advertising agency; it is everybody’s job. What can you do today to improve the level of innovation in your organisation?


To find out more contact Stuart by clicking here or call +44-(0)1636-526111.