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Don’t make innovation your top priority next year

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2nd Dec 2013
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It may sound counter-intuitive but read on and you might well agree with John Brooker's ideas.

Driving on the motorway recently, I pulled in for a burger. The outlet was quiet and the burger display board hidden. "May I have a burger?" I asked, puzzled. "Sorry, no burgers," was the reply, “there was a fire alarm yesterday morning and they didn’t deliver." If it happened the previous day, surely someone could have delivered burgers to the outlet by the next afternoon? No burgers equals no operation. My learning? Don’t make innovation your top priority for 2014; make the operation your first priority.

Another reason 'innovation' should not be top priority in 2014 is that people discuss innovation too much. How to 'do' innovation, how to structure for innovation, how to train people in innovation, how to measure innovation. If that’s your organisation, please stop talking about 'innovation' in 2014; make 'help our people innovate' a high priority instead.

Here are three reasons to do this in 2014:

The world is changing and you have to keep up

Change is constant, as the makers of the BlackBerry discovered. Market leaders in the corporate world, their share price fell from $150 to $9 partly because they failed to spot:

  • A preference for smartphones
  • Evolving website technology (which made access to some sites difficult)
  • The rapid growth of the apps market

They produced a wide range of phones that not enough people wanted, or frustrated them because they could not access the apps or sites they needed. What trends are happening in your market / industry? Do you have a structured process in place to spot them and potential opportunities? A place to start looking for trends is www.trendwatching.com.

Your competitor offers similar products and services

When you have applied 'lean management' to your organisation, eliminated waste, improved your quality, focused on your customers’ needs and your competitors have done the same, what do you do next? Your product or service may be commoditised and the only competition is on price. You might need to innovate.

You do not have to transform your whole organisation. Imagine you are an entrepreneur entering your market. Assemble a team of people from across your organisation and perhaps some good thinkers from outside, use a structured approach to innovate, invest a few days and run a workshop to find and develop a new opportunity. I facilitated one such workshop in which the company identified a new market worth around €100m and needing only minor changes to their existing system to exploit it.

Your clients treat you as a supplier not a partner

When clients treat you as a supplier they are less loyal, they look for a lower price and request tenders for contracts from you and your competitors. If you can innovate in areas that will add value or reduce the pain for your clients, you are more likely to move up the scale of relationship. A client of ours had us facilitate a series of workshops with different clients to find new opportunities. They reasoned they would find opportunities of value to both organisations, and be treated more as a partner. It worked.

Another reason to be a partner, not a supplier, is that in some industries, it is now more challenging to innovate alone. The logistics industry is an example. In a report (2013 third-party logistics study 'The State of Logistics Outsourcing'), the authors state that organisations should:

  • Foster collaboration between the organisation and the client
  • Set up peer-to-peer relationship networks between the organisation and the client (not just through the relationship manager)
  • Develop a culture that promotes and rewards innovative behavior or as one contributor said "shift from a physical mindset focused on day-to-day operational delivery to one based on knowledge, including strategy collaboration and innovation.”

I recognise that many organisations are innovative, that it is becoming more difficult to innovate in some industries and that some organisations need to be more radical in how they innovate. However, if that is not your situation, here are four tips for 2014:

  1. Make sure the operation works well before you focus on being more innovative
  2. Stop talking about innovation. Innovate. Find out the trends in your industry and involve many functions in a systematic search for opportunities
  3. Do not try and 'boil the ocean - that is, don't try to make the whole organisation innovative all at once; this takes time and meets resistance. It is much less risky to form a multifunctional team, run a workshop, innovate and implement quickly, impress others, learn from your success and continue the process.
  4. Run a workshop with a client to find ways to innovate in which both organisations will benefit. Implement what you innovate, build on the success and run more workshops.

Most of all, like a good burger, enjoy it.

John Brooker facilitates teams to innovate and is the author of “The Creative Gorilla; Innovate to Learn, Don’t Learn to Innovate.” He can be reached at [email protected]

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