How to be Innovative

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History is littered with the corpses of organizations who have spent so much time metronomically churning out the same, same, same product with heads down that, when they took a moment to look up, they realized that the world had not only passed them by but was heading in a completely different direction – Blockbuster, Kodak, Nokia, BlackBerry… etc…

Now, I am not saying that the reasons these companies failed are a simple one – and I do not pretend to be an expert in the dynamics of each corporation, however, one thing is obvious, these companies lost contact with the market pulse. My suspicion is that they realized too late that they needed to innovate, but which time, they either went crazy, throwing everything at the wall, hoping it would stick (lipstick phone from Nokia for example), or they just did not have the culture to step up catch their competitors.

Organisations that stand the test of time are ones that develop constantly question why and how. Ones that create an innovation culture from the top to the bottom. Where everyone has a voice and collectively have a shared responsibility for change.

Innovation, after all, can come from anywhere. It does not necessarily have to be a huge something, it can be a small something that makes a real difference to the way an organization conducts its business – I see examples on a regular basis wonderful innovations that really do make a difference… from a simple service innovation to a friend of mine to develop a small piece of analytics software to analyze the effectiveness and responsiveness of advertising based on the elements in each piece of communication.

In order to nurture innovation, organizations have to realize that the CEO alone does not always know best. Sure, he will see the strategic ‘big picture’ stuff that steers the business in the direction he believes will bring the best returns to shareholders, but often, he is not as connected to his customers on a daily basis, nor does he see the everyday problems they face, nor does he see the every day operational problems his business faces.

Organisations who succeed are the ones embrace ideas and innovations from all levels. A ‘no idea is a bad idea’ culture is one that rewards and values staff to question, speak openly and gives them the tools they need to experiment and deliver these ideas.

In many of the markets we serve, we are seeing larger organizations appreciate this more and more. The likes of McKinsey and other large consulting groups are recommending that their clients develop innovation labs, places where staff can experiment and where clients can try new things. This approach is beginning to take hold in the Middle East, where companies are breaking down the silos that existed in the past and are encouraging cross-functional groups to collaborate more and more. Time is set aside for innovation, some companies call it ‘Design Thinking’, where, by building the structure around the creative process, groups are challenged to innovate. I love this approach however, I am also mindful that for companies to really succeed, a CULTURE of innovation is critical. Get this culture right and you will get so much more from your people.

Here are my 10 tips for creating a culture of innovation in your business:

Innovation does not have a hierarchy: Understand that new ideas come from everywhere, not just the CEO

People drive innovation: Listen to your front-line staff, they interact with clients every day

Celebrate ideas: Encourage and reward your teams for innovating and celebrate their new ideas

Talk to each other: Develop a culture of openness across your company

Live differently: Celebrate diversity. Encourage collaboration between cross-functional teams, different cultures, different ages, different backgrounds and different skills

Practice disciplined creativity: Build structure around innovation to help you prioritize and help you develop innovations

Practice 10 into 1: The first idea may not be the best idea, it may take 10 ideas to find a winner. Push yourself to explore differently

Think value: Link innovation to your business plan… some of the time

Understand everything and then question it: Be aware of market dynamics but remember sometimes, we don’t know we need something until we experience it

Forget politics: Corporate politics kill innovation

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