Innovating at the Speed of Life
Most companies are pretty good at developing their products and services to offer new features and new ways to engage the customer. But innovation on a grander level seems to be more complicated, and rarely gets the funding, the manpower and the senior management attention it deserves. Very few are able to change their business model to adapt to new developments in the market, be it technological, cultural or legislative changes. Transforming the business requires a whole new strategy, where the leadership acknowledges that change is the only constant, and every company and every industry has to constantly evaluate which industry they are in, and which products and services to deliver to whom. This transformation is a constant state of innovation, based on customer needs and journeys, technological opportunities and cultural shifts.
A lot of corporations have set up innovation hubs, accelerator programs, etc. to encourage innovation in their company. And I’m the first person to cheer on any initiative that improves products and services, and helps companies stay competitive. But I ask myself if this really is the best way to create a culture of innovation? Isn’t there a better way to encourage multi-discipline ideas at all levels in the company? From the CEO to the front desk, every company has people who can identify and solve problems, but since it’s not “their job”, and because suggesting ideas almost always is a hassle that’s not worth it for the employee. So it’s usually easier to not do anything, keep your head down and your mouth shut. But that’s a lost opportunity for the company – an opportunity that separates highly successful business from those that are just moving along.
Instead, innovation, idea-generation, concept development, problem solving – call it whatever you like, should be at the centre of every company’s HR strategy. Creating a system that allows people to identify – and if possible solve – an actual problem that customers or potential customers may have is the best way to ensure that the company stays ahead of the competition. Now, of course I’m not suggesting that people without the proper background should create new pharmaceutical products, develop new TV’s or cars. That’s for the R&D departments to deal with. But employees that feel empowered to speak up with problems and ideas can help identify challenges that R&D sails to see. Sometimes R&D departments work out new products just because they can, without really understanding if it’s a good product or not. 3D TVs are an excellent example of how technology can blind those who sit to close to it.
So allowing employees to be alert to problems, having a system for flagging those problems, and then bringing a multi-disciplinary team together to solve the problem is really the ultimate way for a brand to stay relevant as technological changes hit. There are many ways to do this. I’m a firm believer in simple structures, low barriers and colleague motivation, rather than complex systems that no one ever uses. Obviously, it does become somewhat more complex for very large corporations, but that can be counteracted by smart use of technology, either with of-the-shelf solutions, or custom builds. The employees need to get some basic training in how to identify problem, what a real problem constitutes, and how to look for solutions. Running a companywide training programme in Design Thinking could be one way of doing it, but perhaps it’s even simpler than that.
Another benefit of an open innovation model, is that empowered employees feel more satisfied with their job, become more loyal to the company, and are better at finding new potential staff members than those who just clock in and out. So implementing this could really be a two-for-the-price-of-one proposition. A win-win for all parties, for the management, for the employees, and most importantly for the customers.
Just remember: Great ideas can come from anywhere!
[Main photo by Chris Isherwood, under CC]
Erik Ingvoldstad is the Founder and CEO of Acoustic Group.
Follow Erik on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR, follow Acoustic at @AcousticGroupSG
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