By Dana Worth 02 October 2018

Your company’s next big opportunity may be right in front of you. For anyone wanting a boost from innovation, the problem is not a shortage of ideas, but identifying useful ones and knowing how to exploit them.

A success story based on a lightbulb moment is always appealing.

The big tips

We’re so used to thinking of innovation as a eureka moment that we can be blind to the fact that it’s usually more of a process: you keep doing what you’re good at, but you raise your receptivity to little flashes of inspiration along the way. 

Innovation experts Peter Bradd (CEO, The Beanstalk Factory) and Amantha Imber (founder of Inventium) outline a systematic approach to making companies and their employees more ideas-friendly.

Their top tips to kick off the process:

  • Explain your corporate vision
  • Encourage experimentation
  • Appoint a chief entrepreneur
  • Have more arguments

Peter Bradd’s company, The Beanstalk Factory, helps large organisations create innovation environments. He uses the broad OECD definition of innovation as the implementation of a new, or an improvement to an existing product, service, process, business model or operational model.

To get that innovation motor humming you need to create a map.

 

Draw up clear directions

First, there must be clarity about the company’s direction. 

“The CEO has to identify the strategy,” Bradd says. 

“He or she has to think about how to relay the strategy. Find a way to make it personal, because it has to align with what employees and investors know of the CEO’s own thoughts and beliefs about how the commercial world operates.

“Get rid of patch protection. Promote proactive transparency.”

Bradd’s advice for boards: it’s hard for a CEO to be “ambidextrous”. By “ambidextrous” he means focusing on generating cash from today’s core business units as well as assessing how to leverage unique assets for the future.

Therefore, consider creating a second, equal role of chief entrepreneur, with the board acting as arbiter in any disagreements. 

 

A road map for the journey beyond business as usual

Explore the by-ways

Second, use a structured method to identify ideas. Bradd points to an article by business consultant Ash Maurya that lists sources of ideas (and the risks associated with each source):  

  • Find a solution to your own pet peeves;
  • Research a new technology that you want to exploit;
  • Copy another company’s idea;
  • Implement an internal success that happened by accident;
  • Explore how to meet customer requests; 
  • Respond to shifts in consumer demand; and 
  • Dig into formal innovation theory.

Always remember the destination

Third, bring your ideas to fruition.

Dr Amantha Imber, founder of Inventium and co-judge of The Australian Financial Review’s Most Innovative Companies List describes five ways to do this.

1. Find the right amount of challenge 
Challenge refers to people working on tasks that are complex and interesting — yet at the same time not overly taxing or unduly overwhelming. 

2. Take a risk, and stop seeing failure as a dirty word
Leaders need to signal that risk-taking is an acceptable part of business. Talking openly about failures and what can be learnt from them is a valuable place to start. 

3. Experiment before you implement
Experimentation is a mandatory step in an effective innovation process. It involves setting hypotheses as to why an idea will add value to the customer, and creating a minimum viable product – the most basic version of the idea that will still allow for learnings.

4. Loosen the reins
When employees perceive they have a choice in how things can be done, they are significantly more likely to engage in trial and error and, through this, find more effective ways of doing things.

5. Have more arguments
Ensure that different points of view are encouraged and that ideas are regularly debated.

 

Check your progress

And finally, how do you measure the success of innovation?

Inventium’s Dr Imber recommends tracking innovation inputs – such as the number of people trained in innovation skills, number of ideas submitted, amount of money invested in running ideas – as well as outputs, such as the amount of revenue driven by new products and services.  

Peter Bradd suggests asking: Are you ahead or behind compared to your traditional approach after six months? Has there been a staff engagement uplift? Are your customer satisfaction scores higher? 

Rapid change offers great opportunities. The problem lies in how to recognise these chances. That’s an ongoing challenge – but a fascinating one.
 
“If you're serious about either digital transformation or your next big opportunity,” Bradd stresses, “you should be deciding what’s right for you now and implementing a go-to-market plan to ensure you're taking advantages of opportunities that are often right in front of you.”

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