By Bradley Howard
According to the Consortium for Service Innovation, the definition of innovation ranges from “introduction of something new” to “something substantially different”. History is littered with examples of companies that didn’t innovate – where competitors have come along and eaten their lunch and worse. Recent victims, including Blockbusters, HMV and Comet, may have survived if they had innovated and tried to do something different.
Organisations should constantly ask themselves “what can I do that is substantially different to improve my service, product, function or role?” The problem is that most people don’t like change. Doing nothing is easy. But if you keep delivering the same offerings in the same way as you’ve always done, tomorrow will be the same as yesterday and next year will be the same as last year. Competitors will appear with their improved products and services, while your revenues decline.
Innovation is inherently risky and unknown and this is not helped by the inherently risk adverse nature of Western corporate culture. So we need to innovate, in a less risky way. It’s a difficult balance. The maxim “Companies have to die in order to be reborn” doesn’t help innovative thinking. It’s also hard to innovate when things are going well – and this is possibly one of Apple’s biggest challenges.
Achieving a culture of innovation is difficult. Most people aren’t paid to go to work solely to think of new services, products, methods or practices. We’ve all met people who will strictly work eight hours a day or their specific job role. I’ve heard people say, “It’s not my role to innovate.” Everyone should be thinking of innovation. If you’re a sales or marketing person, ask is there a new type of system or technique that would help you?
Think of innovative companies such as Google, Dyson and Amazon. People want to work for them as they all seem to offer a great environment where you spend eight hours a day – and get paid for it. Irene Rosenfeld, the CEO of Kraft, described Kraft as a “40 billion dollar start up”. Creating a culture of innovation inside a company with over a hundred thousand employees is always going to be challenging, especially when there was such a ‘safe’ culture before Rosenfeld took over the company.
It’s difficult to think about the future – for most of us, our minds aren’t wired this way. To make it easier, look retrospectively using scenarios and consider the following;
• What digital media tools or systems will you use to help productivity in five years time?
• How will customers be using your website in two years time?
• How can the user enter all these details without using the keyboard?
• How can you protect a secure service without a cumbersome password?
• Identify your most useful smartphone app (it’s interesting to do this collectively) and establish how to integrate this with your company’s app
We recently ran a client workshop where the first question was, “With so many users on social media, should we still build a .com website?” These types of challenging questions are fundamental to promoting an innovative mind set through an organisation.
It’s often easier to be external to the team or the organisation to improve their products. The next time you are holding a brainstorming session, invite at least one person from another team – someone you rarely work with. They’ll come up with ideas that your current team won’t have thought of. Innovation requires both the risk of looking externally, and the mind-set of an external party.
Hold the session somewhere completely different – such a supplier or partner’s office. Interestingly, the kinds of digital companies that are considered innovative (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc.) all facilitate third party meetings in their offices. Many companies offer communication channels for partners and customers to send suggestions to senior managers. Tesco promote their feedback website on every till receipt.
Sometimes it’s a human reaction to think that a product or service is so well used and ingrained that there’s nothing else that can be invented. Take tomato soup, bank accounts or chocolate bars as three examples. Heinz, Barclays and Cadbury all offer personalised products respectively – whether it’s the labelling or the photo on the debit card – this has created significant viral marketing value for all companies.
At my previous employer, all staff were given bonuses for writing patents for the organisation. We received different amounts for producing new concepts, filing them, and whether those filings turned into accepted patents. The highest reward was given if the patent was commercially exploited. Create a culture where you have regular innovation sessions outside of work hours, which will always generate a number of good ideas, and keep the innovation culture fresh.
Innovation must not be just a one off exercise, but an ongoing process, as great ideas will always be copied by your competition. For continued success, ensure that you are ahead of the herd by accelerating innovative change initiatives and respond swiftly to new opportunities.
About the author
Bradley Howard is Head of Digital Media at Endava. Endava is a well-established IT Services company, with nearly 1,000 full time employees working across its European development centres, London headquarters and further offices in the US. The company can design, implement and manage secure, high-volume, business-critical systems and digital services for a wide range of big-brand customers.