Innovation is the bedrock of business growth. The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills’ UK Innovation Survey 2013 reported that, although innovation is increasing in larger companies as the economy grows, 50% of them are identified as ‘innovation inactive’. This is a real concern as, fundamentally, innovation is about maximising the value in, and of, the organisation.
In a faster-moving digital age, success is no longer reliant on having a great idea and bringing it to market. Businesses that really want to succeed need to adopt a creative entrepreneurship mindset and embed it across all their business practices. So what exactly is creative entrepreneurship and how can HR teams foster it within an organisation? It’s all about thinking smartly, making and using connections effectively (worryingly, significant numbers of businesses are unable to determine the value many business partnerships bring) and maximising expertise and research insights. It’s about accessing funding creatively and allowing opportunities to be fully capitalised through new digital, creative and social media to reduce marketing costs. And importantly, forward-thinking companies can engage more cost-efficient talent than their competitors through developing multi-level partnerships with universities and business schools – a hotbed for the digital natives with research evidence and knowledge to share.
Creative entrepreneurship is an approach that is being increasingly embraced by SMEs eager to tackle (cost-effectively) the many challenges they face in growing their businesses post downturn, but what can larger companies take from it?
Accessing the brightest talent
SMEs, by their very nature, tend to be more agile and responsive to change than big business but it can be a struggle to keep up with the pace of change. Skills gaps can be an issue for all businesses, so accessing bright, enthusiastic talent from academic institutions with a strong commitment to developing employability skills can provide the solution. Interns or recent graduates can inject new ideas and perspectives into business and, as a result, both the business and the student benefit greatly.
There’s no doubt that ‘digital natives’ can bring the knowledge and experience to support innovation to businesses of all sizes, yet many big companies seem to view their internships and student placements as part of their corporate social responsibility agenda rather than a potential route to innovation. At Salford, student placements (lasting between three and 12 months) are integral to undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and there is high demand for them from businesses in the region, which can see what an immediate contribution and impact students can make to their business.
Learning from others
While all businesses consider themselves experts in their chosen industry, input from an objective third-party organisation can provide another dimension. Innovative businesses are continually moving forward, learning from others’ experiences, identifying and seizing new opportunities and being creative in how they access the knowledge they need. Many SMEs benefit from knowledge transfer partnerships with universities. Funded by the government, they provide a sustained collaboration to help them improve competitiveness.
Undoubtedly the capacity of businesses to absorb and apply new knowledge relies on recruiting a well-educated, flexible and creative workforce equipped with the skills needed to turn knowledge into commercial outcomes, as well a management and entrepreneurial capability. New research from BIS4 found that the employment of skills such as product and multimedia design, graphic arts, and software development in particular, are linked to innovation performance. Salford Business School’s Centre for Digital Business is helping to develop the students and graduates in these creative and digital markets to do exactly that.
Connectivity is crucial to successful creative entrepreneurship. It can provide the spark for new ideas, open up collaboration opportunities and provide cost effective solutions to challenges. It can come in many guises – through online communities, shared workspaces or by ensuring employees tap into continuing professional development opportunities. Within the confines of a business, internal connectivity is just as important, something that HR teams can – and should – facilitate. In larger companies that tend to work more in silos, this can prove more of a challenge, but there are benefits to be had from encouraging networking in as many ways as possible – particularly in putting the customer at the centre of that networking philosophy. When it comes to innovation the evidence shows that, the greater the number of connections, the improved chances of sustained success.
Acquiring relevant skills in a changing environment
The business and trading environment is changing more rapidly than ever, making the digital and social landscape increasingly important. Keeping abreast of these changes is vital. For SMEs where one in three don’t have a website, two thirds don’t market or sell online, and many struggle to maintain a dynamic digital and social-media presence, the impact on customers finding or accessing innovation is pretty obvious. However, big business is not immune, with many not taking full advantage of all that is on offer, or failing to fully understand how customers utilise and benefit from their digital and social demands in this evolving space – taking a traditional approach but just digitally enabled.
By approaching innovation with the creative entrepreneurship mindset that’s being adopted by many successful and growing SMEs, big business can also expect to reap the rewards – and the UK economy will undoubtedly benefit.
Professor Kurt Allman
Professor Kurt Allman is an associate dean of enterprise and engagement at Salford Business School. He has extensive experience of international collaborative projects aimed at supporting social cohesion and regional economic development.