The concept of innovation
The word ‘innovation’ has now become the marketing/branding person’s buzzword du-jour adorning straplines and corporate slogans the world over. However, it’s easy to use a word where the common dictionary definition is so vague.
Innovate: \ In”no”vate \ , v.
To begin or introduce something for the first time.
If that’s really innovation, then I’m wrong and all those corporate straplines and slogans are accurately depicting every company they represent. However, you and I know that’s not the case. If you begin to do something new in your company that your competitors have been doing for years, is that an innovation? If you invent something that delivers no real value to your customers or your business, is that being innovative? I would answer no in both cases and suggest that a better business definition of innovation is this:
Innovate: \ In”no”vate \ , v.
The successful exploitation of an idea that adds value to the customer and commercial return for the creator.
Anything that can be described as an innovation needs to add value as well as being different. It could change the way a business works so that it becomes more efficient (and therefore more profitable) it could change the way people are managed and motivated (and therefore retain and attract staff, reducing recruitment costs) or it could be a new product or service that helps drive customer spend and generate sustainable and profitable shareholder returns.
So, if the above is what innovation is there to deliver, then it’s absolutely part of your job. Innovation is more of a mind-set, more cultural than a specific process solely linked to the creation of new products.
Innovation is a product in its own right
Innovation should be the underlying current that flows through an organisation, which means it should be a natural part of what you do. My perspective is that innovation is a by-product of being exceptional, and unless we strive to be outrageously good at what we do, the chances of us being truly different, innovative and world-class are remote.
So, if being absolutely outrageously good at what we do as individuals, teams or companies drives innovation then ask yourself: is that part of my job or is being average good enough? Creating the right culture and engagement that inspires people to want to be exceptional is the key and that falls squarely on the MD or CEO's desk.
Innovation should be embedded in the very fabric of an organisation as fundamentally it’s about thinking and doing things differently in order to push further and faster forward. Competitors can easily copy products and services but what’s almost impossible to copy is how you do what you do and that makes it a sustainable point of differentiation.
How do you apply innovation?
You need to redesign the traditional business model, as the hard metrics of control and delivery are no longer the main drivers of shareholder value - people are. So if you’re the MD or CEO, from now on I want you to think of yourself as being in the 'people' business. Your new mission in life is to create a talent-rich, entrepreneurial community, collectively passionate about what you do and how you do it. You need to create a desire in your people to move away from average, and head towards exceptional.
To do that you’ve got to start some fires burning in people’s bellies, you’ve got to start using different language and you’ve got to get passionate about what you do and how you do it.
Instead of three golden rules, here are my three golden emotions of business.
Emotion 1 - love
You and all your people need to absolutely love what you do and how you do it. MDs/CEOs, if you don’t, your people won't. Great leadership is absolutely critical if you want to create a culture of innovation. You’ve got to be inspiring and sincere enough that your people bestow you with the leadership badge and want to be part of your company's journey. That’s when people start to love what they do.
If you achieve this, people will be motivated, inspired, engaged, dynamic, and creative and they’ll be exceptional. Best of all, they’ll be doing things differently, looking for new ways to tackle old or existing problems, tensions and challenges and when that happens innovation becomes the natural by-product.
Emotion 2 - desire
As a result of the organic move away from the mediocre towards exceptional, every area of your organisation will raise its game. When you become outrageously good at what you do, your customers will start to want not merely consider what you sell. They’ll desire your brand to the point that you’re the no-brainer choice because you’ll have company-wide and experiential differentiation as well as great products.
Emotion 3 - hate
If you’ve nailed these two, then your competitors will absolutely 'hate’ you. You’ll have them constantly scratching their heads trying in vein to catch up.
If you’re an MD/CEO and that isn’t what you want your innovation efforts to deliver, then I don’t know what is. If you’re an employee and you don’t want to work for an amazing company, be surrounded by talented and engaged people and be looked at by your customers and competitors as being the best, being world-class then no, maybe innovation isn’t in your job description.