For a startup, an innovation culture is in place almost by definition as it looks to make its mark with a new idea. With time and growth, however, that initial spark can be lost. Here is what top experts recommend for giving innovation a boost.
ANALYZE THE OPPORTUNITIES
Every company is different. To truly innovate, it’s paramount to find the areas where opportunities lie.
Jimmy Leppert, a partner at Kotter International, a US-based specialized management consulting firm, and his team pose the same question to every senior executive they work with: how can you get the whole organization, at every level, going at speed to deliver on core business strategies?
“Innovation correlates to the rate of change,” Leppert said. “In a faster-moving world, innovation becomes a word that applies to anything you do. This covers how you save money, how you handle talent, how to come up with something significantly different to how it’s been done before and even how the industry has done it before. Identifying these opportunities and acting on this is what innovation is all about.”
Knowing what you need to achieve with innovation is an important part of the equation, advises Bart Higgins, a partner at ?What If! Innovation, a global company that helps organizations build in-house innovation capabilities. “Investing the time upfront to help identify what innovation needs to produce for you is often the most important part of the journey. Asking the right questions and defining a clear innovation ambition will help a business make the right commitments to the scale of innovation they require.”
New York’s Steinway & Sons piano makers, for example, worked with ?What If! Innovation to launch Spirio, a high-resolution player piano that re-creates performances by great pianists as if conducted at a live performance.
“THE KEY ELEMENTS OF AN INNOVATION ECOSYSTEM ARE ALL CENTERED AROUND AND SUPPORTIVE OF LEADERSHIP THAT PRIORITIZES, DRIVES AND INCENTIVIZES COMMITMENT TO INNOVATION.”BART HIGGINS
PARTNER, ?WHAT IF! INNOVATION
“The end goal of innovation wasn’t just about developing a product, it was about restructuring their business thinking around this new market,” Higgins said. “Using innovation as a process, Steinway was able to understand where the value of the new technology was and what the new offering should stand for in the mind of the consumer.”
LOSE THE LAYERS
Companies often try to become more professional as they grow, but this leads to more layers that form a hierarchy, creating gaps in communication. Too much distance between management and idea-generating staff is an innovation killer.
“As companies expand, they increase their use of management,” Leppert said. “To deliver on all their commitments and grow, organizations must balance innovation and great management and close the gaps that can form.”
Hierarchies can interfere with discussing or acting on innovative ideas. To recapture their innovative cultures, companies must remove these barriers so that ideas from every level can be heard.
“Many startups and companies have great ideas and a pioneering spirit,” said Anke Kleinschmit, vice president of Group Research and Sustainability and chief environmental officer at Daimler. “To innovate, it’s vital that companies bring these to the fore.”
CREATE AN INNOVATION ECOSYSTEM
For innovation to thrive within an organization, it’s important for staff to buy into its philosophy of innovation and to work in an innovation-supportive environment.
“The key elements of an innovation ecosystem are all centered around and supportive of leadership that prioritizes, drives and incentivizes commitment to innovation,” Higgins said. “Organizations must develop tools and processes for the ‘doing’ of innovation; governance and planning that ‘steers’ innovation; performance goals and knowledge that ‘enables’ innovation; and behaviors and collaboration agreements that allow teams to ‘be’ innovative.”
GET THE TECHNOLOGY RIGHT
Modern technologies and concepts, such as the Internet of Things, make data collection and analysis easier and more powerful than ever before.
“THINKING SMARTLY AROUND HOW TO APPLY THE TECHNOLOGIES THAT ARE OUT THERE, IN THE CONTEXT OF THE SITUATION THAT YOUR BUSINESS IS IN, CAN SUPPORT INNOVATION”MICHAEL RINGEL
SENIOR PARTNER AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, BOSTON CONSULTING GROUP
“Getting a handle on new technologies and what they might do for you is key,” said Michael Ringel, a senior partner and managing director at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a global business consulting firm headquartered in Boston. “Thinking smartly around how to apply the technologies that are out there, in the context of the situation that your business is in, can support innovation.”
Thanks to such technologies, the cost of data gathering is plummeting, said Ian Ferguson, vice president of Worldwide Marketing and Strategic Alliances at ARM, a leading global supplier of microprocessor technology. “Technology is now cheap enough, and wireless technology is proliferating enough, to see it become invisibly buried into the ecosystem and infrastructure that surrounds us. This is the massive growth of this time.”
With so many technological touch points now available, companies that put in place systems to capture and relay this information can gain new insights into their business. These insights better position their executives to make dynamic and innovative decisions.
TAKE EDUCATED RISKS
Pharmaceuticals company Gilead Sciences placed eighth on BCG’s 2015 Most Innovative Companies list. Key to its ranking, Ringel said, was the company’s deep understanding of relevant technology and science, plus Gilead’s willingness to look outside its four walls for innovative ideas.
In 2012, for example, Gilead purchased Pharmasset, a clinical-stage pharmaceutical company, for US$11 billion.
“This was something other companies in the industry were afraid of doing because they didn’t understand the science enough,” Ringel said. “Gilead understood it enough that they were open to external innovation and saw a return on investment by 2014. Gilead was at the forefront of the fight against hepatitis C and developed the drugs that effectively led to the curing of this illness. Their innovations have helped change the lives of millions of people.”
Analyze the Opportunities. Lose the Layers. Create an Innovation Ecosystem. Get the Technology Right. Take Educated Risks.
This five-point plan for innovation isn’t easy to achieve as an organization grows. If leaders keep these factors top of mind and communicate them throughout the company, however, they’ll be well on the road to reclaiming the innovative fervor that gave birth to their organization.