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22 Aug 2019
How innovation can help shape an organisation article illustration

How innovation can help shape an organisation

Innovation requires people to develop new solutions to important challenges, often using existing technologies or materials in new ways. However, in many organisations, innovation is a catch-all word used to describe anything that differs even slightly from the status quo.

There is a sense that innovation is innately positive and desirable, so some organisations tend to overemphasise their innovativeness. Others, content with business as usual, aren’t as concerned with innovation per se as they are with finding ways to grow the company.

Regardless of where your organisation sits on that spectrum, it’s important to realise that true innovation can help shape an organisation from the people and culture to the operating models and bottom line.

Why innovation is essential

Gone are the days of unquestioning customer loyalty, and staff members who just want a stable job for life. The pace of business just keeps getting faster and staying still isn’t an option anymore. Businesses can’t keep doing the same things and expecting the same results; they’ll soon be overtaken by more creative organisations that do a better job of engaging their customers.

It’s also important to learn key lessons from the recent past. The biggest disrupter to the taxi industry wasn’t other taxi companies, it was uber. The biggest disrupter to the hotel industry wasn’t other hotel brands, it was Airbnb. And, the biggest disrupter to your industry could come from a completely new business model that hasn’t even been conceived yet. Would you rather be the business that creates that new model, or the business that has to try to remain afloat in a disrupted market?

Of course, most business leaders wish they’d thought of uber or Airbnb. And many are hard at work, right now, thinking of ways to disrupt their own industry. However, there’s a difference between wanting to be innovative and actually being innovative.

How to tell if your business is innovative

If your business is innovative, it will probably share at least several of these traits with other innovative organisations:

  1. Collaborative: open collaboration perpetuates a culture in which further innovation is encouraged, fostered, and eventually seen as business as usual, leading to ever-increasing cycles of innovation that take the business from strength to strength.
  2. Flexible: rather than doing business a certain way because of tradition or inertia, innovative organisations can move with the times and pivot to new approaches that leverage emerging technologies and evolving best practice to become more competitive.
  3. Leading: negative disruption from other organisations becomes less likely as the innovative business is more likely to drive disruption or at least benefit from it, creating an organisation that definitively leads rather than follows.
  4. Engaging: innovative organisations recognise contributors to innovation, creating deeper employee engagement and loyalty in the most valuable employees, eliciting stronger performances from talented team members, and encouraging others to learn and grow.
  5. Agile: mature businesses experiencing stagnation can use innovation to transform into more nimble, agile organisations that compete more effectively, operate more efficiently, and outperform their competitors.
  6. Proactive: encouraging innovation lets organisations determine their own shape, rather than being shaped by external forces.

A final note on innovation

Innovation doesn’t have to mean coming up with the next billion-dollar idea. Small, incremental improvements can have a significant impact on your organisation’s bottom line. Just finding a new way to manage an existing process or shave costs from the supply chain can help your business get ahead. Considering new ways to add value to customers can dramatically improve your brand perception and increase customer loyalty in ways that are sustainable over the long term.

Don’t confuse innovation with invention. The latter involves creating something from nothing, and can easily be done in isolation. Innovation requires teamwork and, unlike creative genius, it’s a skill that can be learned and fostered throughout your entire team.

Taking an innovation approach to your entire organisation can help you find myriad small ways to make a big difference.

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