Innovation as a key to business success sounds like a simple title and a simple subject. However, it is much easier to talk about innovation and how important it is than to actually implement it. That’s the problem: innovation is much more than a set of words, or something magical you hope happens organically with your employees. Innovation is a habit that can be developed, nurtured, and matured into something that happens on a daily basis.
To quote Steve Jobs, “To turn really interesting ideas and fledgling technologies into a company that can continue to innovate for years, it requires a lot of discipline.” Discipline is not a word we want to associate with the flow of creativity we think innovation is. However, it is true, and that is what set Apple apart from the start: the company has never been afraid to innovate.
So, what does it take to make innovation a habit? Here are some basic ideas.
Identify Areas Where You Need/Want Change
Innovation does not always mean creating new products, and meeting a unmet customer needs. Instead, according to Systematic Innovation Technologies (SIT), it is about “starting with an existing product and its characteristics.” Sometimes this means offering a new feature that adds value or functionality. Sometimes it is as simple as educating customers on features a product already has.
It’s not just about products though. Innovation can also be applied to everyday processes in your business from hiring to how payroll is processed. To truly be innovative, a business must be open to change in every process they engage in from the top down. Innovation begins with leadership, and it must spread from there.
A leader who encourages innovation must allow for failure, and even encourage it. As Jeff Bezos says, “You have to be willing to be misunderstood if you are going to innovate.” Not everyone is going to buy into a culture of innovation, and you have to be willing to let those people go.
Change Skills and Behaviors Rather Than Just Taking Action
If your business needs innovation in a certain area, you need to go deeper than just surface actions. Innovation does not always mean changing software or changing a process entirely. Sometimes it means changing core behaviors and developing new skills. The advantage is that these skills and behaviors will translate to other projects.
Using the hiring process as an example, taking action might mean using a different interview technique, accepting applications online, or using a different screening technique. While this might accomplish a short-term change, in the end the behavior and skills of the hiring team remain the same, and they are likely to revert back to old practices using different tools.
Instead, at the very heart of the hiring process, certain skills and behaviors determine not only the journey of the interviewer and the quality of candidates you attract and hire, but it also affects the interviewee journey.
Think of it this way: whenever a business offers someone a job and they turn it down, they are essentially telling you that something your said or offered during the hiring process did not match up with their needs or the reality of your offer.
While this may be simply a matter of salary or even company culture, it can also indicate a failure to communicate to the candidate the benefits of working for your company over another. This failure to communicate could be related to a skill or behavior, and both can be changed or taught.
There are probably several other areas of your business, including your products or services, where innovation would result in tangible improvements and increased profits.
Create Structures and Mechanisms that Encourage Innovation
Changing behaviors and teaching skills is just the start if you want your company to continually innovate. The process of change can be slow to accelerate and to make it easier and continuous, you are going to have to put structures and mechanism in place that not only allow, but encourage innovation.
As mentioned above, this means a fundamental change in mentality. You must adopt a new conversation and language around ideation.
- Failure is not only okay, it is encouraged.
- Putting forth ideas is not a waste of time.
- Few ideas will endure the vetting process to adoption, but all should be equally considered.
- Small changes often bring the greatest results.
Whatever these structures and mechanisms look like, everyone must be provided with time and opportunity to present ideas. In his book, The One Thing, Gary Keller states that often the most important things are not the largest things, or the things that seem the most important at first glance. All ideas and all tasks are not created equally, and should not be judged on short-term effect but rather long-term impact.
Innovation as a key to business success sounds like a no-brainer, but making it a priority is more complex than it at first seems. Identifying areas of change, developing new behaviors and skills, and putting mechanisms in place that encourage innovation will allow you to reap the rewards that this kind of forward thinking brings with it in every area of your business.