For today’s business, investment in innovation is a critical success determinant, a necessity, not an extravagance enjoyed by the first tier product and service companies. Innovation is no longer a specialization of few geeky research and development people, but an everyday exercise required from all employees at all levels.
Scout for Innovation
While many will argue that innovative thinking is a talent that people are born with, rather than acquired, it is well established that innovation can be institutionalized and “processized” in the corporate environment by practicing by innovation scouting, which is fundamentally a critical assessment of applicability and compatibility of ideas and things to a problem at hand.
Everything, and literally everything, can spark a creative idea or be the source of your next innovative solution. Observing innovations by competitors, testing new solutions or concepts by suppliers, reviewing complaints or requirements by customers, reading latest academic publications in the field, or visiting an industry-specific trade fair can always help finding the next innovative idea.
Doing the Math
Ideas are free, but not worthless; the value of an idea can only be determined after doing the math. Cost benefit analysis is the determinant factor when it comes to idea valuation. Nothing is virtually impossible, rather just extremely expensive.
A recent example on innovation in supply chain management comes from one of the leading multinational food and beverages company in Egypt. Over a course of few years, their research and development team made few innovative modifications to the water bottles. They were able to save millions of Egyptian pounds, and reduce solid waste by thousands of tons, by reducing the bottle weight by few milligrams, and reducing the bottle cap size.
Nursing the Idea
Ideas are like babies, you feed them and take care of them until they become mature, and reliable. Innovation management is a critical process in today’s successful organizations. The process should always determine how an idea can develop, evolve and flourish seamlessly in the organization.
But this is easier said than done, innovation should necessarily be routed in the DNA of the firm, very much like elements of organizational culture, and there is no short-cut recipe for embedding innovation into the corporate DNA.
In a recent workshop that I delivered to a multinational company known for its innovative and dynamic culture, the Human Resource Training & Development Manager insisted on measuring the course success by its ability to help course participants come up with new ideas; something that they seemed to do systematically. The participants, trained to spot opportunities in every corner, were able to identify multiple opportunities to be assessed for possible improvements in the manufacturing process. Not surprisingly, the team discussion revealed that the company had a long pipeline of innovative ideas at various development phases. Every employee seemed to be an innovation scout in his field, and this is why the company was able to sustain its competitive advantage for decades.
Image by Flickr Nick Saltmarsh