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8 Ideas to Sustain Innovation

Marketing PlansIf you own a business today and you want it to be around for a long time, you need to spend at least 33% of your time (my number) innovating. In our hyper-connected, fast-moving world, where people expect things to get better, cheaper and more environmental friendly, sustaining innovation is your route to getting ahead of your competition.

Here are 8 suggestions that can put new vitality into your company through innovation.

1. Create An Innovative Climate.

Goran Ekvall, a Swedish researcher, has defined a number of conditions needed for a climate of innovation. They are: trust, involvement, creativity, communications, diversity and humor. One of Ekvall’s case studies was Cirque du Soleil, the Montreal based entertainment conglomerate, where you can see it has a philosophy based on dreams, and it “offers its artists and creators the necessary freedom to imagine their most incredible dreams and bring them to life.”

Although Cirque du Soleil is in an industry (entertainment) where continual innovations are crucial to success, the fact is that successful organizations in all types of industries need cultures that support sustaining innovation.

2. Develop “Light Bulb” Monitoring Attitude.

According to the Roffey Park Leadership Institute, many flashes of inspiration come to people when they are away from work and not forcing their conscious brains to find solutions to their problems. We can find examples where the ideas come while mowing the lawn or taking the dog for a walk or playing golf or waiting at a railway station.

For Isaac Newton, as the story goes, it was an apple on the head while sitting in the garden. For Archimedes, it was in the bath. For others it’s while doing the dishes; that’s why Roffey Park calls these flashes of insight: washing-up creativity. Personally, I call it being actively aware of where the sparks occur then acting on that small trigger, in other words, the “wow” factor when the light bulb goes on.

In today’s busy environment we often miss those new “light bulbs” that are triggered when we are in the midst of turmoil or stress so this takes some training and discipline. Carry a small notebook and pen with you, even when you are mowing the lawn! This is a discipline that can be adopted by all people in your company, if you empower them to bring you any ideas they may have and listen to it completely before dismissing it.

3. Encourage Making New Product or Service Extensions.

Making new product or service extensions between existing features of your product or service is a popular way to innovate. For example, Akio Morita, then chairman of Sony, said that he invented the Walkman because he wanted to listen to music while walking between shots on his golf course. His team simply put together two seemingly incompatible products: a tape recorder and a transistor radio.

With the introduction of the Apple iWatch in 2015 we can see how they are extending the capabilities and features of the iPhone to create a new market. The whole genre of Internet of Things devices, (IOT) are really taking technology deeper into our everyday lives. The key; will the market become the next big marketing thing or will it fizzle, the jury will vote on that over the next 6 – 9 months. My money is on “Yes”. Many companies in this space are innovating how we monitor all kinds of health and personal tasks that can make us more productive.

Listen to your people and customers, they really can give you some great insights into what new extensions or supplemental products or services you need. Remember, sometimes it make manifest itself in the complaints you are receiving so don’t be too quick in dismissing complaints.

4. Find Out What People Need.

Necessity is a great spur to innovation. Take, for example, writing paper. The Chinese had already made paper from rags around the year 100 BC but because there was no perceived need for it, nothing much came of it. When it did reach Europe in the Middle Ages then writing became the rage, however the supply of rags and worn-out fabric soon dried up.

Based on this scarcity, a French naturalist made the discovery that wasps made their nests by chewing wood into a mash that dried in thin layers. Within 100 years, all paper was made using the idea of wood pulp. Sustaining innovation out of evolving products and services is the right thing to do.

This is not as easy as we think. Yes, you can ask but the key to success is determined by asking the right question, which may or may not be asked early on in the process. Be sure to listen after you ask! Ask more relevant questions not convenient questions.

5. Continually Test and Retest.

Product and service testing is the way most inventors and organizations go about innovation. It may not be the quickest route to success, but it is often the surest. Jonas Salk, for example, discovered the polio vaccine by spending most of his time testing and testing and continually finding out what didn’t work. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the filament light bulb, recorded 1300 experiments that were complete failures. But he was able to keep going because, as he said, he knew 1300 ways that it wasn’t going to work.

There have also been a lot of innovations that resulted from some of the failures. Items like the microwave oven, duct tape, super glue and many others were discovered after examining what the failure communicated about the concept.

6. Always allow for Adaption and Adoption.

One relatively easy approach to innovation is to notice how others deal with problems and then adapt their solutions to your own. Don’t blindly copy someone else’s processes, as this will often lead to failure. The key is knowing when to adapt and adopt. Innovation can be simply adapting to a new mindset, for example, look at what the watchmakers at Swatch did when they realized that the more reliable their watches became, the less people needed to replace them.

Their solution? Borrow an idea from the world of fashion and collections by turning their watches into desirable fashion accessories. Now people buy Swatch watches not just to tell the time but because it’s cool to do so. They literally changed the entire industry with this move. How many watches do you own and why did you buy them? Functionally, they all do the same thing but my making them a fashion statement they opened the door to watches setting trends.

7. Take Lessons From Nature.

If you really want to be inventive, you can’t beat nature. Nature continually gives us sparks of creativity and diversity by supplying prototypes to use in our own daily lives. Take Velcro, for example. Velcro was patented by Georges de Mestral in 1950 after he returned from a hunting trip covered in tiny burrs that had attached themselves to his clothing by tiny overlapping hooks. De Mestral quickly realized that here was an ideal technique to fasten material together. A whole new way of doing things was suddenly invented. Much of NASA’s space program would not be possible if it were not for Velcro.

We see new medicines developed every year based on the processes outlined in this brief article. Manufacturing processes continue to be optimized by watching how nature deals with the process of survival then adapting that process to elements provided in nature.

8. Don’t Overlook Simplification.

Mike Myatt, the business author, has written: “Complexity is the enemy of the productive – it stifles creativity, slows progress, increases costs, inhibits confidence, and erodes culture.” Do you believe this? If you don’t then you may find growth very elusive.

There is a phrase in the software world that says: “Usability drives adoptability?” This is really true of anything we innovate. Making a product or service extremely usable without having a 300 page manual will always enhance sales and adoptability.

Leonardo da Vinci – “Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication”

Highlighted below are just a few pitfalls of complexity:

  • Dependence on Smart Capital (Creative Accounting) which is expensive money every time! When the process of managing or obtaining capital becomes shrouded by complexity or hidden processes there is always a negative impact on the organization.
  • Dependence on a hero(s) to keep a company running is nonscalable, expensive and very risk laden. What happens if your key hero is hit by a truck today and unable to work, communicate or participate in the daily process? Yes, you can survive but it will be expensive and take longer than if you had empowered cross training and insisted on simplicity of operations.
  • Dependence on complex technology, while efficient, may be a major weakness when growth is required. When your install base becomes large, any changes to that environment will be expensive, difficult to manage or restrict you to living with outdated technology, unless you have architected it with simplicity in mind.

In summary, I am amazed at how much is written on this subject but how we struggle with trying to keep this fresh and exciting in our companies. So often, we get so caught up in the tedium of daily business that we don’t take the time to innovate. We also don’t empower our people enough to that they will feel comfortable bringing new ideas or processes to leaders.

If you really want to develop sustainable growth you must always be open to and willing to innovate. Reinventing your products, brand or services may see extreme but if you make it fun, inviting and transparent, your people will help you move to the next level. Always remember your “people” are “people” not “production units”, “assets” or “tools”. They may function in those areas but they are still people so to innovate everyone should be included in the process to be successful.

The history of the world is the history of innovation. Thomas Kuhn called each acceptance of a new innovation a paradigm shift. For once a new innovation becomes accepted, the world has changed forever and can never go back to the way it was. If you would like some assistance with determining how you can become more innovative please check out our website or call me at 630-454-4821.