Innovative is the most overused word in business. However, it is also the most important business concept. Without innovation, a business cannot survive. Last year, Inc. magazine published the top ten overused company buzzwords. Guess where “innovative” ranked? It was number one! Search the word “innovative” on Google and you get over 2 billion results.
In today’s world of disruptors, digitalization, Artificial Intelligence, and the Internet of Everything, every brand is looking for the ultimate innovation to keep them relevant and profitable. Every CEO understands that innovation is key to their brand’s future. Yet, it is often elusive. Every day, formerly popular brands become obsolete.
A brand can either ignore reality or start looking for new opportunities outside their comfort zone. Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century says, “the most important attribute you can have is creative imagination – the ability to be the first on your block to figure out how all these enabling tools can be put together in new and exciting ways to create products, communities, opportunities, and profits.”
Shawn Hunter the author of Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes, defines innovation as the implementation or creation of something new that has immense value to others.
“Creativity isn’t necessarily innovation,” Hunter told Business News Daily. “If you have a brainstorm meeting and dream up dozens of new ideas, then you have displayed creativity, [but] there is no innovation until something gets implemented.”
Innovation is Putting Ideas into Action
Creativity is the process of developing unique and novel ideas. To find out more on this topic check out 9 Creative Ideas for Great Branding. Innovation is the process of putting new ideas into workable, physical actions that create measurable financial results and brings value to the brand and its customers.
It’s easy to generate ideas. The hard part is implementing the ideas. There will be many reasons why an idea can’t be implemented such resource limitations, timing, expertise deficiencies, process and production issues, costs, and leadership. Most big ideas cannot be implemented without many small, successful ideas.
A company’s internal culture sets the stage for their ability to create great ideas, but that is only the start. Most companies don’t know how to move an idea into reality. Physically implementing an idea requires many disciplines across many different silos. A clear system must be in place to turn new ideas into overnight innovations.
Innovation Starts with a Problem
Many new innovations are inspired by a problem such as declining sales, customer changes, shifting trends, new technologies, or competitive actions. The trick is listening to what customers are thinking and understanding the opportunities or issues. Brands need to closely watch the marketplace (locally and internationally) to understand shifts in attitudes, trends, and technology drivers.
In her article, The 10 Things Innovative Companies Do To Stay On Top, Julie Bort says that successfully innovative companies get their best ideas by listening to their customers. In Everything Connects—How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability, Faisal Hoque and Drake Baer emphasize the importance of engaging customers throughout the innovation process. “Listen again to the customer to help them imagine; use prototypes to elicit feedback; listen to customer acceptance/buying criteria; listen to what could go wrong, but don’t let the devil’s advocate take control.”
Innovation is a Constant Process
New ideas can be easily implemented by setting up an internal start-up team that works on a concept from start to finish. Another popular way is to buy out promising innovation companies and combine them into the big brand powerhouse. David Friend, CEO of Wasabi Technologies, says “It’s hard to have a corporate culture that juxtaposes caution and process on one hand with nimbleness and innovation on the other. So, it’s a good idea to separate the two functions inside the company so that both are fostered.”
In the Harvard Business Review, Gary Hamel, London Business School professor, and Nancy Tennant, past chief innovation officer innovation at Whirlpool, suggest that innovation requires a systemic view. “It’s not about individual tools and tactics, but how each of those methods fit together to accelerate the product innovation cycle.”
Technological companies like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (FAANG) have figures this out from day one as they continue to innovate and introduce new brands in a timely fashion.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said: “Invention comes in many forms and at many scales. The most radical and transformative of inventions are often those that empower others to unleash their creativity — to pursue their dreams.” Apple’s career website says every sentence at Apple starts with ‘what if…?’: “Everyone here is an innovator, or an innovator-to-be. That’s how we create the kinds of products and experiences that few ever imagine…innovation comes from everyone in every role at Apple.” Netflix’s Culture Manifesto states: “You thrive on change” and “You challenge prevailing assumptions and suggest better approaches.” Facebook strives to make “innovation a daily habit” by encouraging its employees to constantly introduce new ideas. Google promotes a culture of innovation through its eight principles of innovation that help empower employees to innovate.
Innovation Needs to Be Fast
Jeff Bezo is focussed on swiftness; He strives to meet his customers’ every need in hours not days. Every day he asks one simple question: “Are we a Day 1 or Day 2 Company?” A Day 1 brand believes that every day is a new day; experimenting, inventing, and innovating are the norm. Day 1 brands are passionate about surpassing customers’ needs and aren’t hostages to the process. Day 1 brands stay ahead of the curve, have high-speed decision making skills, and believe that 80 percent confidence is enough. They detest bureaucracy, waste, and outdated attitudes and practices. Agility isn’t just a word but an attitude that embraces a start-up spirit regardless of history or size.
Only Innovative Brands Will Survive
Well established older brands are generally less nimble. They have well established processes, systems, policies, and governances that allows them to provide customers with a high quality, consistent, brand experience. All these controls impede innovation. Therefore, they often focus on small product innovation. Major transformations cause too much upheaval and risk.
Retooling a company for innovation is a formidable task. In 1999, Dave Whitwam, then chairman of Whirlpool set a new culture of innovation where every job and very process would change. He anticipated that this journey would take five years! Today, five years is a life-time for some brands and a death sentence for others.
Gary Hamel and Nancy Tennant defined five key innovation elements for a brand:
- Upgrade Innovation Skills;
- Define Innovation;
- Establish Comprehensive Metrics;
- Hold Leaders Accountable;
- Retool Processes for Constant Innovation.
Moving a great idea into an innovation isn’t easy and many times they fail. Just ask Google about failed innovations (50 failed Google products). But, failure hasn’t stop them from launching many successes new brands in the last 12 months like the Pixel Smartphone, Google Home, Pixelbook, and Nest Hub Max.
We can all learn from the FAANG corporate culture and begin to transform an idea into an innovation quickly and efficiently. For a FAANG brand, innovation isn’t just an overused word, but a way of doing business daily.