Rethinking Innovation in 2018:
What it Takes and What’s at Stake
Innovation – a well-meaning term, intended to inspire endless business solutions and nothing short of greatness, seems to be approaching meaninglessness; and nowhere more so, than in the tech world.
So what went wrong? How did innovation go from the end-all-be-all of the industrious to a superficial hashtag attached to anything in an effort to “make it great again”?
Like most things we overcomplicate, we made innovation grandiose at the expense of its real value – and it’s time to go back to basics.
The Actual Point of Innovation
The definition of innovation, in all its simplicity, may be the culprit for why its admirers felt the need to dress it up. It’s rather straightforward - to innovate is to make changes, to do new things or at the very least, do old things differently...but the question remains…why?
From a business perspective, the key driver for all innovation is enterprise value creation, a fancy way (here we go again) of saying “to make the company itself more valuable.” Whether you envision value creation through the lens of revenue growth, operational efficiency, increased market share, or even things like establishing competitiveness and industry standards, value creation is ultimately about taking the business where you want it to go.
If that’s the case, then innovation seems pretty crucial. But are teams actually innovating or do they get decelerated by day-to-day operations? Must the sustaining of excellence in answering client demands really be at odds with truly, humbly, innovating? Just what does it take to innovate in 2018?
Let’s first consider what often stands in the way.
End the Idea Collecting
A crucial part of clearing the path for innovation is, of course, understanding what truly equates to added value. This can be accomplished in a variety of creative ways, from business case studies and user stories designed to give life to the client or customer, or from massive data mining and searching for that elusive industry white space. We collect our best ideas when we are operating under two certain conditions. One, we have a culture that promotes and rewards the free exchange of ideas, and two, we truly understand whether who we want to create value for will actually perceive it as such, and will then act on those perceptions. When your team begins to realize how fun it is to think this way, and search for subtle areas ripe for disruption – disruption, another word almost devoid of meaning – a wild goose chase can ensue. This will add value, and this! And will it be perceived as value! And by whom!
But all of this problem-solving can become an addiction to finding that perfect puzzle piece at the expense of execution. All the data and strategies in the world just don’t matter if we can’t ever stick to a well-informed hunch and take it from idea to implementation.
Focus on the Framing
While more relevant for B2C than B2B models, framing the challenges of your users is so, so important. Massive industry disruption is cool and all, but so is its humble counterpart, the simple solution. And sometimes simple solutions actually produce the most disruption, but this doesn’t happen when we’re stuck in abstract thinking, novelty-chasing and grandiose ideals. Break it down – frame the challenge – what can we actually do differently, and why will it make such a big difference?
Focus on the Factory
Great innovators don’t always innovate the product, they often innovate the team. Leaders with a knack for innovation know the power of culture, and especially its more underrated qualities.
“Culture changes how people conceive of risk,” explains Skip Smith, seasoned executive and Partner at LabCoNYC. “An encouraging culture promotes the courage to introduce new models, thoughts and ideas, which is highly valued on the quest for innovation. But the real value of an inclusive culture is more nuanced. It’s all about dismantling the pride of ownership that stands in the way of turning a good idea into a great one.”
When a culture that truly values teamwork and cooperation is created, Skip explains, people are not only willing to share ideas that may not make the cut through iteration, they are also open to the extremely positive adjustments that iteration can bring. “A solid team trusts one another,” he says. “They can take the birth of an idea through a developed vetting process without feeling their job or their ego is at risk. That’s a precious advantage unavailable to a team that thrives only on interoffice competition.”
Follow Through with High-Quality Communication
Once you and your team have gotten on the same page, evolving to value execution and a culture of experimentation, you will eventually stumble on that innovative idea that will create incredible value. But improving your market offering is only half the battle. We’ve talked about the importance of customers perceiving that value, and the reality is, they’ll only perceive it if it meets a genuine want or need and if it is communicated clearly and effectively. If you’re going to invest in valuing what it takes to produce innovation, don’t drop the ball by haphazardly communicating it. What will it take to communicate the value you’ve created?
And finally, the Key to Persevering?
Remember, Innovation Creates Value for All
While the original idea behind an innovation may be geared towards addressing a need or want of the customer or consumer that can be both well communicated and received, ultimately, innovation creates value down the line, benefiting both stakeholders and shareholders, and protecting the competitiveness of the company by staying true to innovation’s emphasis on staying relevant.
Remembering the foundational concept of enterprise value creation is key when the hard numbers and hours must be allocated and the price of innovation is up for assessment. After all, there’s the price of innovating and then, there’s the price of staying the same.
Now we’d like to hear from you, how do you envision Innovation?
How do you make it a priority rather than a buzzword?