‘If we’re smart, we don’t wait for a challenge.’
Innovation is a key driver of growth in this day and age where ‘stagnancy’, as a word and a concept, can be categorised as a curse in business; and it is incumbent on every business person to explicitly lead and manage it. Leading strategic thinkers are moving beyond a focus on traditional product and service categories to pioneer innovations in business processes, distribution, value chains, business models, and even the functions of management. Businesses are no longer caged by geographical and cultural boundaries; every other establishment has the potential to become a formidable growth machine.
This is where innovation at an individual level comes into play. For which purpose, an employee or a worker at an organisation, irrespective of designation, should be made aware of what the concept actually means. ‘Innovation is combining existing elements in new ways to create value for customers’ says David Wittenberg, CEO, The Innovation Work group.
According to Wittenberg, there are three key traits that needed to be developed into part of your personality as the first step towards innovative thought:
- Curiosity – If you are curious you will have more elements in your toolbox and hence more exploitation of new combinations. Your customer base will increase because you understand what value to them is and you begin to finally give them that.
- Independent thought – Make changes, on whatever scale. When you think different, you learn and apply a great deal more than you would have otherwise.
- A Sense of humour – The definition of innovation is one that talks about new, untried combinations. ‘What is humour? Humour is a sudden recognition of an unexpected relationship.’ Innovation in business comes naturally to such people because they unconsciously practice it every day of their lives.
The true test of success for an idea is whether or not it can make someone else’s life better. Ideas are never really ahead of their time unless technology cannot support them. Acceptability is a natural outcome of the comprehension of a benefit. If an idea is clear or is communicated well enough, the benefit is understood and the idea accepted. There is hence no real ground on which it can be called futuristic. This should not serve as a discouragement, not all changes can be ground-breaking. It is a fact that innovation is necessary either to ensure continuous small improvements (where methodologies like Six Sigma come into the picture) as well as when you face a problem. A problem is intrinsically a situation where there isn’t a learnt response. Learn how to identify a problem by being an observer. Your insight will follow, as will your strategic innovation project.
Middle-class India, as an ecosystem, discourages innovation. And thus follows the importance of having manageable processes in place to establish a culture of innovation in a business. Holding leaders accountable for encouraging innovation makes a tangible difference. According to Mckinsey research reports, 30% percent of the senior executives surveyed were accountable for it, through formal targets or metrics, in their performance reviews. They were more likely than the broader group of respondents to view innovation as one of the primary growth drivers, to manage it formally as part of the leadership team or through an innovation council, and to learn from their failures to achieve it.
On the same lines, innovation that goes unnoticed makes clear how important a professional network really is. You might just have the most revolutionary insight but lack the resources to implement it. There are a number of ways to grow in the business world; each of them requires you to put in the requisite effort yourself. You need to work hard to get to know the right people that would help you employ your capabilities in the right avenues that provide a scope for growth and an undistorted visibility. ‘Hope is not a strategy.’ Of course, networking does have its own ground rule – Make sure you are a value creator to the opposite party, not a value taker.
How sustainable should your innovations be? Is sustainability a smart option for businesses? Executives behave as though they have to choose between the largely social benefits of developing sustainable products or processes and the financial costs of doing so. But that’s simply not true. It is essential to realise that almost all businesses are looking only to increase profit under the guise of development of technologies that are intrinsically sustainable – in actuality, the intention behind doing so is that such technologies improve the bottom and top line returns as well. And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. Companies that talk about zero-waste are entering such an arena to cut costs and create goodwill – ultimately both of which add to the purpose of the company’s existence: profit. Waste management is evidently climbing up not just the political agenda for a reason different from environmental benefit.
So what is the moral of the story? If you haven’t gotten to it yet, it’s never too late to begin, simply because you can’t afford to not do so. All that is needed to get started is an insight, which is nothing but a discovery that comes after seeing what everyone else sees but thinking what no one else has thought. The procedure is not as tricky as it seems. Reliance Communications, for example, was born from an insight as simple as could be: people like to talk to their family and friends. One cannot stress enough on the criticality of being observant. Indian customers cannot be expected to be honest about your product if their opinion is not favourable, because of their cultural norms that do not advocate displeasing anybody. Observation is therefore the best bet to figure what creates value for that very customer. Value is, after all, the ratio of Benefits to Price: people pay for benefits, neither a product nor a service.