What Is Your Business' Innovation Process?
April is Innovation Month at FocalPoint Coaching of Florida! I’d like to celebrate innovation and innovators throughout the business world, past, present, and (perhaps especially) future!
So, given that, my first question for you my reader is: What is your innovation process? Every business should have one. And if you don’t happen to have a process for innovation established in your company yet, fear not – I’ll help you start to develop one at the end of this blog.
Now, this bold assertion of mine MAY lead you to one of two questions:
- Why do I need an ‘innovation process’ at all? My business is good, and stable, and my particular industry really doesn’t have a lot of innovations. I don’t need to innovate. I just need to keep doing a great job at what I’m already doing.
- OK, I see why I might need to innovate in my business, but why do I need a ‘process’ for it? I’m pretty creative, and we are already pretty innovative.
Let’s tackle those questions in order.
First, the question of ‘why innovate’. Regardless of what type of business you are in, I have no doubt that it has seen massive change over the past 10 years. The most obvious example of a driving force that has caused this change is the advent of the internet, e-commerce, and social media. Many industries (retail, entertainment / media, etc.) have been completely disrupted and re-engineered by the internet. Just think of the impact that Netflix and Amazon have had on your behaviors and your purchases. But even the most “internet proof” business models, which generally involve a lot of high-touch customer service or the physical exchange of consumable goods in real time have been massively changed. Certainly, consumer expectations of service level, AND their ability to help shape the perceptions of your brand via social media, can impact any industry and any company. So, if your consumer expectations and your business models are constantly changing due to changing conditions and technology, then you had better be innovating to stay on top of these trends. If you don’t, your competitors will, and you’ll soon notice that they are taking better care of your customers than you are. (And your customers will notice this too.)
Second, why is a ‘process’ needed? The answer is that the best way to ensure a flow of innovations within your business is to establish a repeatable process for generating and nurturing these ideas, rather than relying on an accidental ‘eureka’ moment in a sudden burst of creativity. Now, these ideas may range from evolutionary to revolutionary – a minor improvement to a real game changer. But without a process, we are counting on these happy accidents occurring on their own, which are few and far between. By setting aside time and energy to generate innovations, we not only increase our chances of creating the game changing ideas, we create an environment within our organization that allows these crazy concepts to build up steam and overcome obstacles to become reality.
Every business’ innovation process will be slightly different, depending upon your industry, size, team, culture, etc. But as you design your own, you should make sure to at least touch upon these key elements:
- Explore – The best innovations often come from outside your own industry, and outside the things that you come into contact with day-to-day. Apple Computer had no presence in the music business, but their understanding of consumer needs and evolving behaviors have made them one of the world’s largest distributors of music, through their iTunes platform. If you want to bring change that will really differentiate you from your competition, look outside your immediate sphere.
- Generate – Come up with a lot of ideas. The crazier, the better. Focus on a core underlying customer need, but then don’t limit yourself when you spend time figuring out how to meet that need. You may have heard the tip that when brainstorming (or ‘ideating’), don’t edit or refine right away. You’ll end up squashing some of the crazy ideas that needed a little more time to breathe. Initially, just focus on creating as many of these crazy ideas as possible. And have fun with it.
- Validate – Eventually, once you have exhausted the new idea generation, it will be time to determine which possibilities deserve the resources. Don’t spread your resources (like time and money) too thin. Start to validate – put pen to paper, start to do some math and some research, and figure out which ideas are most realistic, and most value-added to your customers. At this point, narrowing your focus on a few bigger bets will help make sure that your organization stays focused on the best opportunities.
Let me leave you with this thought from Elon Musk: “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” Remember that, even when we validate and focus, not all of our ideas are going to be winners. We need to make sure that our businesses are hitting enough singles and doubles, so that when we swing for the fences, we can afford the occasional strikeout on our way to hitting the home runs. Companies like HP and 3M not only celebrate their innovation wins, but they even celebrate their failures, because these often lead to subsequent successes. Make a conscious decision to weave innovation into your company’s culture. And, as always: Whatever You’re Going To Be, Be Outstanding!
Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments or questions.