Innovation is often associated with rare moments that visionaries have once in a lifetime. We tend to ascribe it to revolutionary ideas that change the course of history: aviation, telephone or the internet, however they all come out of inspiration by people looking at simple problems.
Consider the following thought from Henry Ford himself: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.” Discovering issues customers look to resolve gives us a better understanding of where to focus your efforts.
Instead of “how do I improve something?” ask “how can I fulfill this need?”
What Is an Innovation Strategy?
It’s looking at all the available solutions and realizing that we’re trying to solve the wrong problem. Often it’s less about finding ways to improve an industry than it is discovering that you can create a new one. And the really exciting aspect of innovation is that, if you don’t make it happen, it’s guaranteed that someone else eventually will.
As an inherently disruptive force, innovation pushes against the boundaries of organizations. “That’s not how we do things” isn’t a word of caution to an innovator, it’s a challenge. The tension is how can you encourage innovation in a positive direction that allows collaboration and iteration.
Innovation as a strategy is a complex, company-wide endeavor that requires a set of cross-cutting practices and processes to structure, organize and encourage it.
How to Develop an Innovation Strategy for Your Business
Like it was mentioned at the beginning, the key to innovation isn’t looking at ways to solve the problem in front of you, it’s taking a step back and asking if there’s a larger problem/issue/need that should be addressed instead. That’s a larger perspective that can be difficult to attain, so here’s five recommended steps on how you foster innovation from within:
- Listen to your customers – The issues and problems of the people that you’re serving, whether they’re external to your business or a part of it, will highlight the things you should focus on.
- Keep asking “So what?” – Not to your customers, but to yourself. “So what’s the real issue here?” “So what’s causing this?” So what do they really want?” It’s an interrogation to understand your customer’s functional or emotional problem, need or task they’re trying to accomplish.
- “Think outside the box” – The phrase that we are too familiar with, but it’s also fundamental to innovation. This is where you push yourself to explore new and unconventional approaches and techniques of solving the “so what.”
- Experiment with new solutions – Bottom line, it actually has to work. Set yourself up in a safe environment and start trying out these new solutions to see what’s going to happen.
- Repeat – You’re going to fail. Repeatedly. This is the real truth to innovation, that it doesn’t form from nothing, but comes about through dedication, iteration and perseverance. If you want to make this work within your business, you’re going to need to create the right environment for it.
You may not be able to break down the walls of your organization, but you can make it a little flexible. If you and your coworkers are going to have the time and space to innovate, you need support from the right culture and management practices.
Here’s five recommended steps on how your organization can help everyone be more creative and innovative at work:
- Determine Overall Objectives and Approach – If it’s going to accomplish anything worthwhile, your innovation strategy should support your business objectives and vice versa. This is where you map the call for innovation to your organization’s mission and vision.
- Define Your Value Proposition – where you’ll need to focus on creating value.
- Are you saving your customers money, time or effort?
- Are your customers willing to pay more for what you’re offering?
- Is there a larger societal benefit at play?
- Is what you’re offering more convenient, better performing or an entirely new feature?
- How much more durable / affordable / novel is it compared to other products in the market?
- Can you execute the ideas in a scalable manner?
- What roles will R&D, production, marketing and finance play in development?
- Who is in charge of overseeing the projects and allocating resources?
- Who is responsible for managing the budget, determining time to market and setting key specifications?
Examples of Successful Innovation at Work
Every organization recognizes the need for innovation, and the largest organizations often became that way by capitalizing on a novel idea and finding ways to continue encouraging development and risk-taking.
Tips for Every Day Innovations
Having an overarching strategy is important, as is being in the right environment, but day-to-day innovations still don’t always come easy. If you’re trying to be innovative at work, or you’re just looking for ways to be more innovative in general, we’ll leave you with these tips to keep in mind.
- Brainstorm with a partner
You can bounce ideas off each other, which can lead to ideas you may not have considered on your own.
- Experiment with changing small things often, even if it’s as simple as changing your workstation or finding a new writing environment.
- Be more active within your space.
Stand and walk around or even take some time to explore outside of the office. Being “stuck” is sometimes as much a physical issue as a mental one.
- Ban something for a work session and try working without it.
Maybe it’s a common software or application, working without background music or writing everything down on paper instead of on the computer.
While it’s entirely possible to innovate on your own, it’s also the far more difficult option. If you’re fortunate enough to work within an organization that promotes development and experimentation, take full advantage of the possibilities afforded and talk things over with others.
What have they found that works well?
What resources do they recommend looking into?
How can you help each other?
Source: University of San Diego