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Innovation Nation: Adapt or die


Innovation Nation: How do we stay ahead in the global race…?

The “global race” is a much used term in the media these days, but what is it? How does it affect us?

As business leaders’ taking part in the global race is being able to survive the effects of digitalisation, global competition and free markets. Winning the global race is thriving through innovation. Put simply, we must adapt or die.

To win we must innovate at all levels.

With the exception of a few highly-regulated industries, we live in a commercially diverse and unstable world. And for how much longer will these few be protected for? Ten-year business plans are a thing of the past and the five year business plan is on the Red List; already at risk of extinction.

A small number of ‘innovators’ at the very top of an organisation, teams powered by high quality MBAs, and owner-entrepreneurs cannot be the only source of leadership, creativity and inspiration. We must give everyone in our businesses the skills to innovate and the confidence to be creative.

Most crucially our people closest to the customer must have the skills and freedom to innovate; Tesco are a great example of how empowering the frontline to stimulate new ideas that delight customers can lead to market changing innovation. Just think Clubcards, on-line shopping and banking.

Reading, writing, arithmetic and innovating. It is that fundamental.

“I’m not creative” – wrong. Innovation skills can be taught.

The United Kingdom has been an innovation hot bed, producing great innovators and great innovations. Identifying the key knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for people to innovate has been led by a small number of organisations over the past decade including NESTA, Pera and Cass Business School.

Organisations achieving transformational growth create new value for their customers through their people, processes technologies. Often we associate innovation with the technologies and research processes that support them. Investing in these 3 innovation strands is essential.

During their growth periods Dyson were spending £4m on advertising and £24m on innovation. How does your business compare with this 6:1 ratio?

Genuinely scalable and sustainable innovation requires your people to have the ability and desire to innovate. There are number of questions you can ask yourself to identify these skills.

Can all your people:

  • Identify and gather the information needed to come up with new ways to make even more money? Are they looking outside the business for insight?
  • Break the patterns of their day-to-day lives and stimulate creative and novel new ideas for growth? How can we combine day-to-day things to make fresh offers?
  • Assess all the ideas consistently and objectively before picking the ideas that will work? Will they be the right ‘fit’ for your business strategy, marketplaces and culture?
  • Make these new ideas happen on-time, on-spec and on-budget?

Consider Speedo; one of the UK’s greatest innovators. They wanted to create the fastest ever swim suit? What is quick in water? Sharks. Sounds simple – but this insight was backed up with diligent research at the Natural History Museum. Innovators across the business applying these innovation skills in a systematic way delivered huge success.

These essential innovation skills should be the backbone for your businesses growth.

Sticky Innovation is the key.

Making innovation stick is the Holy Grail for us as business leaders.

Developing your critical mass of innovators across the whole business is only piece of the puzzle. It must be supported by strong leadership and creating a ‘safe place’ for innovation to thrive in your businesses culture.

A strong innovation culture is the platform for Dyson’s huge innovative growth. Strong shared values and a freedom to fail was what made them great. Dyson claims it took him 5,127 prototypes before his first vacuum cleaner was launched.

Adults learn by doing things. If you’ve decided you want to build the innovation skills in your business it is crucial to get people using the tools and techniques they have learned quickly.

Combine the training with in-company projects. Create small teams. Make it a competition. Make it important. Focus on a single problem. Make it fun. At Dyson these projects and teams are supported by digital technologies that bring innovations in front of customers quicker than ever before.

Great start – but more is needed.

It is tremendous to see Government supporting and stimulating the development of innovation across businesses. Examples include the Innovation Expert programme in manufacturing, Growth through Innovation for SMEs and Innovation Training through ESF.

However, this is only the start. The UK economy is built upon the strength of our people, dominating and leading the way in many service and intellectual industries. Driving growth in new markets or creating the ‘next big thing’ requires constant, collective, relentless innovation.

Innovate everything. Innovate everywhere. Innovate all the time.

When innovation sticks it becomes the norm. It becomes ‘the way we do things around here’. We must not rest though. Keep innovating. Once you’re people are innovators look to co-create with customers, suppliers…even competitors?!

Thinking back to Tesco – their innovation is relentless. At any one time they are filling their innovation pipeline with new ideas. The recent acquisition of restaurant chain Giraffe and their desire to lead the digital in-store experience are just a couple of examples.

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

To the sceptics, perhaps imagining this conversation will stimulate some thought.

Manager 1: "What if we train our staff in innovation and they all leave?"

Manager 2: "What if we don't and they all stay..."

If you do not innovate you will be left behind. If you don’t adapt, you will die.

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