Is Innovation Important?
The greatest innovations are often the ones we take for granted, like light bulbs and penicillin. But in a fast-paced world where mind-blowing ideas very quickly become the ‘norm’, how can companies, maintain a spirit of innovation year after year? In this article, we explore why innovation is important and how we can stay ahead by focusing on doing the right things the right way.
So What is Innovation?
Innovation – what does it mean? Ask ten people for a definition, and you will receive ten different responses! Every leader will say it is important, but nobody seems to agree on what it actually is or what it means.
Very simply put, innovation is about staying relevant. We are working in a time of unparalleled change. As a result, companies need to adapt and evolve quickly to meet the ever-changing needs of their customers. But innovation is not just about coming up with a new product or service. Innovation is about doing things differently to improve, invent or add value.
Innovation should be a deep consideration of all the elements of your business model, including:
- What customers should we serve and to what level?
- Can we open up new markets or plug into untapped segments?
- What additional benefits will we provide?
- What products and services will we offer?
- How can we differentiate ourselves?
- How will we deliver our service? How can we improve our systems and processes to make the customer experience consistently positive?
- How will we make more money? Are there unconventional ways to generate revenues and profits?
- Can we bring this innovation to market significantly better than our competitors – and how can we keep that advantage long enough to make this opportunity pay off?
“Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity and where appropriate profits.” – Edward de Bono
Innovation is not the responsibility of specific people. Every single person in the organisation has the opportunity and the ability to come up with new ideas. Nurturing a culture that allows for innovation is the key. The challenge for leaders is to find the right mix of doing the same things over and over again versus doing things in new ways. There should be a natural tension between efficiency and effectiveness.
It is important to remember that innovation cannot be totally de-risked. When we think in new ways and try new things – there is always some risk of failure. So take chances early, often and in low-risk situations. We learn by doing, by failing and learning from failure.
Efficiency vs Effectiveness
Many leaders feel comfortable when they are busy and active. They feel like they’re getting things done. In his book, [i]The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker draws a distinction between efficiency and effectiveness. He says: “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”
As leaders, we can’t assume just because we do things well that we ought to be doing those things. Being effective requires knowing where to focus our effort and consequently automating, outsourcing, and downgrading everything else.
“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”
“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The true dangerous thing is asking the wrong question.”
Major Obstacles to Innovation – symptoms and root causes
“There’s a way to do it better—find it.”
There are many reasons given for the lack of organisational innovation. Common obstacles include:
- Short-term focus
- Lack of time, resources or staff
- Leadership expects payoff/results sooner than is realistic
- Incentives are not structured to reward innovation
- Lack of systematic innovation process
- The belief that innovation is inherently risky
To improve innovation consider the following:
- Record examples of innovation success in the organisation?
- What innovation obstacles do you currently face in your organisation? How could these be removed?
- When do your employees/teams have and share good ideas – how could this improve?