Question: What do you see as the main barriers to commercialising innovation?
Lots of companies ‘talk’ about being innovative, but…
Without a leadership open to innovation, there is no innovation.
This is a yes/no gate.
“Building an innovative culture is a long-term play, not one that is focused on short-term returns.”
The person who started the company gave themselves permission to take a leap of faith. Once that new enterprise has been established, the owner will probably continue to try out new ideas. It doesn’t necessarily follow that this permission is devolved or PERCEIVED as having been devolved to management teams working for business owners.
Leaders need the right mindset for innovation. Having an innovation mindset means:
- Recognising that space to experiment can look and feel like ‘waste’.
- Devolve permission to fail (within a limited time / resource budget) – otherwise no-one will rock the boat.
- Do something with the ideas that get put forward – without defaulting to a yes / no decision.
- If YOU don’t make time to innovate, then you won’t be giving your teams time to innovate either.
Even ‘with’ leadership, management teams skills centre on ‘business as usual’
You hire people for a specific role because of their experience in your sector, or in that particular skill set. They then push forward at full speed, getting the job done.
What room does this leave for new ideas or exploration of alternatives?
“If you maintain a helicopter view – look at broader trends, go and steal ideas from other industries.”
Let’s explore the concept of being a customer-centric company. In a B2B environment this can create a great deal of customer-reactive innovation – jump, how high? Next brief… etc. “Of course we understand our customers. We talk to them all the time” Here, we’re in danger of falling in to the Henry Ford mentality – “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse” Don’t deliver the perfect fax machine, create email.
“Let people in the B2B business get exposure to the customer and the customer’s customer so they understand ‘all’ of the downstream needs and their relevance to our product design.”
The power stays with the company that has closer links to the end users of your product.
A ‘customer reactive’ supply chain enables an environment where huge companies can remain agile – because they outsource innovation to much smaller companies. Contrast this with a company anticipating the ‘outcomes’ that customers and ‘their’ customers need. You become part of a much bigger conversation and gain a weightier voice when it comes to supply chain negotiation.
If we are standing still in the current business climate, that is equivalent to going backwards at full speed because everything else is changing all around us.
We don’t need to react. We have that choice. But then surely we are developing ‘deathstyle’ businesses, not lifestyle ones. Lifespan businesses, set to operate over a finite time period with no plan to sell them on as a going concern.
The problem underlying this compulsion to ‘change nothing’ is the fact that the perceived risk of doing something looms larger in our minds than the actual risk of standing still in a flowing current.
Innovation happens ‘somewhere over there in R&D’ and only in the form of big tech projects that don’t concern the rest of us who are concerned with servicing current orders.
Maybe the time has come to re-frame the language we use around ‘innovation’.
What if we started talking instead, about keeping everything the same – same budget, same workforce, same capabilities and assets.
But reducing our cost by 10%. Or increasing operating profit by that amount.
Would innovation start to seem more appealing?
This is where we can ‘make things differently’ rather than just ‘making new things’. The HOW of innovation, not the WHAT – altering for the better, the everyday ways of doing business that we take for granted.
Smaller companies with a fixed business model find it more difficult to justify the distraction from ‘business as usual’ when it comes to developing new ideas.
It is clear that relatively young companies or those with low-level investment in capital plant, can change their business model and their company culture relatively easily, to embrace innovation and idea generation in all its forms.
“Innovation doesn’t have to be one big idea. It can be 100 small ideas that all bring positive results”
Conversely, innovation becomes difficult to embed or optimise in established companies where the culture is set and the pre-conditions for creative thinking are not in evidence.
As an established company with a strong order book, it can be difficult to justify rocking the boat by trying out new ideas. What is the incentive? Failure, wasted effort? And besides, there is enough to keep everyone busy just filling current orders.
In these circumstances, no amount of new idea generation will create an innovation culture. Indeed, such activity is likely to be short-lived and become a demotivating activity for staff if ideas are not valued or progressed.
But the SMEs who do build in innovation can start to move faster than big companies.
As a small company there is far less to get in the way of quickly evaluating and exploiting ideas. We can be far more ‘agile’ than larger companies.
So is now a good time to evaluate how your leadership style cultivates innovation in your business?
Interested? Contact Jane to see how innovation can make your business more agile – to put more money in the bank. We work with businesses in Lancashire, the North West, and across the UK.