What is innovation?
Innovation is a recurrent topic in many companies. As business men and women we all know that we need it for our businesses to thrive in the mid-term. Today, this is almost common knowledge. But it is not so common to find someone who really knows what innovation is, and how is it actually done. For many people, it is the result of some kind of serendipity, a genius mind, or a powerful insight coming from nobody-knows-where. But, although all these things can be involved and sometimes happen, innovation is a process we can follow, unleashing the creative forces within our companies and taming them into some real business results.
Innovation is a business process we can follow.
At the core of this process, there is one simple credo: thinking outside the box to discover and connect dots, which will show the right path to follow. And for this purpose many researchers and business innovators have been developing tools and methodologies, testing them in real life, and achieving some excellent results. Because of that, we already know that innovation does happen within a business process.
Next question is obvious: what does this process look like? It is not a simple topic, as there are many innovation methodologies with proven results. For instance:
We can follow a design thinking approach, like the one proposed by Stanford Design School. It is basically a conventional design methodology applied to business challenges.
IDEO has successfully developed and applied a Human Centered Design process for innovation, focusing on human needs as the primary source for innovation development. This method is based on the previous one.
This design-based approach has been developed into new related methodologies, such as the “Double Diamond methodology” crafted by British Design Council, the “Design Thinking for Business Innovation” approach of Jeanne Liedtka, or the “Business Model Generation” method created by Alex Osterwalder.
Eric Ries, with his lean startup approach, has changed the way startups face new business development through ideation and iteration.
Google has also trademarked its approach to innovation, weekly design sprints, with some success. In fact, it is widely used within the company to approach business challenges.
Another approach is the one created by the University of St.Gallen and the BMI Lab, concentrating on systematic business model innovation: it encourages innovative ideas by confronting the company’s current business model to other business models that have been successful in related or unrelated industries. In fact, there are just 55 business models which account for 90% of all successful companies , and we can play and combine all of them to find new ones for our particular industry.
As you can see, the variety is wide open. Nevertheless, we should look at all these methodologies as different approaches to the same problem. And, in fact, in many cases, they share some common ground, such as:
A customer focus: for too long, companies have concentrated on new technologies and products and flooded the market without understanding the real concerns of their customers. All of the approaches bring the customer to the centre of attention, exploring his needs and trying to satisfy them with the most promising solution.
A team based methodology: Innovation it is not a matter for individuals, but for diverse, dynamic and focused teams. Workshops are standard practice and a culture of exchange, and meaningful discussion is encouraged.
An iterative approach: We are not going to reach the summit in the first try. In fact, we will have to iterate and check our hypothesis and assumptions very often. This process is explained in all approaches so that everyone can follow. Failure within an innovation process is actually an achievement, showing us the path not to follow.
A methodical approach to creativity: as Picasso said, intuition and insights are important, but they should meet you at the workshop. This means that we can produce real “Eureka moments” through a consistent, methodic and precise workflow, using the right tools for that. Ideation through brainstorming and team cooperation are essential elements for this process. BMI Lab, for instance, uses business model pattern cards to help find new possibilities that could help us to innovate.
Innovation is a mid-term investment for your company
Of course, there are many differences as well. We are not going to explain them now, but it is important for you to know that innovation can be unleashed and tamed with the right methodologies and expert guidance. Anyway, we have to be very clear about this: no process or method can deliver results without the involvement of top executives. Innovation should be a strategic policy in the company. You cannot expect results in the short term, persistence and compromise are significant to success. You are making an investment in the mid-term, be patient.
Finally, you will not be able to apply any innovation method without a cultural change inside the company. These kinds of approaches require a new mindset, focused on experimentation, which probably will demand some broad changes for many businesses, from top to bottom. As Peter Drucker allegedly said: “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” No innovation strategy can survive in a fearful, conservative and command-and-follow environment.
The good news is that everybody can do innovation. Your company does not need to be a business giant or a top-notch tech-maker. You can unleash innovation through a clear, precise and accountable business process. You will need guidance, tenacity, and compromise, and probably some changes in your mindset and corporative culture. In exchange you will have the chance to upgrade your business, exploring new markets, raising profits and getting new clients.