The notion of a defined R&D or innovation initiative is not new. But these days it seems that just about every company is using some form of the word “innovation” in their positioning or value proposition. And with good reason. Simply put, innovation is the way that companies create new products and services that drive new revenue.
So, if every company on the planet is heading down the innovation path in one way or another, why isn’t there a simple playbook for everyone to follow by now? One reason, of course, is that the rate of technology change is immense. The pressure for companies to continually deliver value to their customers, while outpacing competitors is massive – and one way to do that is to use technology in ever-creative ways.
Over the past 25 years, I’ve been fortunate to work with companies large and small, in just about every major sector and most recently these consulting engagements have started with a question similar to this: “Our [company/division/department/team] needs to become more innovative. How should we get started”? Every situation is unique, of course, but in nearly each one, these five pieces of advice usually apply.
1. Define the problem that you’re trying to solve. The fun part of innovation is that the world truly is your oyster. However, a little focus goes a long way. I like to use a simple planning tool such as Lean Canvas to help to really hone in on the singular problem.
2. Gain “unwavering” executive buy-in. Quite often, a formal innovation initiative costs the company money – at least initially. So, ensuring that your initiative won’t land on the cutting room floor during the next budget cut, you need to get the support at the top. If you ARE the top, then don’t start the initiative unless you are truly ready to commit.
3. Start small. It’s easy to think big. But much harder to execute, and if you shoot for the stars too early, you might just set yourself up for failure. Out of the gate you might be tempted to start an innovation lab. Or build a big R&D department. Or acquire a company to develop a new service. All are very plausible options. But starting small to show short-term results is one way to demonstrate success. For instance, many innovation initiatives start with a research initiative. Surveying your customers, attending relevant trade shows and conferences, or even buying white papers, are all good ways to quickly, and efficiently, head down the path of solving your big problem.
4. Select your team wisely. The truth is, not everyone is cut out to work on innovation initiatives. For instance, in a world where rapid prototyping is often a good first step, perhaps a perfectionist isn’t going to be the best project manager. It doesn’t mean that she isn’t a model employee, but it might mean that her very strength works against her in an innovation setting.
5. Don’t forget to evaluate your processes. Being innovative doesn’t always have to involve inventing a new technology. Or developing a new product. It could mean just doing things faster than your competition. Or reducing costs that can then be passed on to your customer.
Innovation is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s important to remember that the work in innovation truly never ends. And the learning never stops. Once you get your efforts rolling by following some of these steps, I believe you’ll soon be able to scale your innovation efforts in no time.
By Rick Gardinier, Chief Digital Officer, Partner, BRUNNER