One of the unique selling propositions every business should prioritize is innovation, I would go as far as saying that it needs to be part of the corporate DNA; it has to be, now more than ever, front and center in every conversation with clients and in every brainstorming session. There are many factors that are, in my opinion, key to driving innovation in an organization, these are my top 5:
There is nothing that we can achieve without first believing we can do so. This is the case for innovation as well. When working for a larger organization, we sometimes hold-back our efforts by thinking that innovation is just for fintech’s or start-ups, when the truth is that we have greater opportunities and tools to innovate in established businesses. The key is navigating the necessary internal processes and finding great collaborators, moving from idea, to plan, to execution in a more agile way. If we take what we know, and what we learn along the way to create a toolkit of best practices, it will then help us pave the way for future endeavors.
If we already have the confidence, then we need to find our collaborators, the right set of teammates and stakeholders with whom we can share ideas, exchange insights, and who can ultimately help us drive our vision home. Another advantage of belonging to a bigger corporation is that we have an unending reservoir of experts, teams, and mentors that allow for cross-functional collaboration, helping us advance our efforts in a more efficient, and seamless way. So, by building connections within an already integrated global organization, we are able to create a network of innovation-enablers, one we can tap into anytime we need to.
Success instills confidence, but failure imparts wisdom. It's what we do after failure that counts—what we learn. That’s why acting decisively is key; challenging the status quo, not being afraid to take calculated risks, and sometimes also, fail.
There’s a quote I read from Peter Drucker, one of the founding fathers of the modern business corporation (and a fellow consultant) that says: “There are companies that are good at improving what they're already doing. There are companies that are good at extending what they're doing. And finally, there are companies that are good at innovation. Every large company must be able to do all three - improve, extend, and innovate - simultaneously.” In today’s world, where everything is constantly shifting, changing, and evolving at record speeds, this rings especially true. If we don’t foster an environment and leaders who enable making fact-based principled decisions quickly, confidence in our chosen courses of action, and certain appetite for risk, then we cannot, in turn, foster innovation.
Which takes us to or next point, culture, innovation-enabling culture.
To successfully nurture an innovative team, we need to first enable an innovation-oriented leadership. This means fostering trust, psychological safety, supporting a continuous flow of ideas, conversations, and efforts that lead towards innovation. Teams should feel connected and comfortable in their relationships with their leaders, and their teammates, while trusting that taking risks, and failing, isn’t only OK - it’s encouraged. Talented teams, contain an endless source of creativity, and the key lies in the approach we, as leaders, take to unlocking it.
Sometimes, we have all that’s required to innovate, we have the confidence in leaders and our team, we have the mentality to do so and great collaborators to help us on our way, but we don’t know where to start. This is where curiosity opens doors.
If you are ever lacking inspiration on where to innovate, ask your clients. What pain-point is causing them challenges? What insights might they be lacking that can help them in their decision-making processes? How can we enable their visions for the future? If we take a step back and take a comprehensive look at innovation from different perspectives of our business, we will surely find our answer.
There are also many other examples of corporate giants that have taken this client-centric approach to innovation and found great success. Examples such as Lego, and their open-sourced product development initiative which saved the company from a challenging financial situation at the turn of the century. Or DHL and their delivery drones, a crowdsourced initiative which not only helped drive their bottom-line, but also significantly bumped their customer satisfaction scores.
More so than a team’s structure, or any specific characteristic, innovation is fostered in the way we think, in our diversity, the belief that we are in fact innovators. And so, I hope that we are all given the confidence to move our ideas forward, find the right collaborators to make it possible, move past our fear of failure, trust and foster a team environment which allows for innovation, and become curious enough to find the answers we are looking for.