Study Busts the Myths Surrounding Innovation
In an increasingly competitive business environment the pressure is always on to innovate to gain the advantage. This pursuit of the 'new' and the 'next thing' by business can be a thrilling release from the everyday. We think of innovation as an exciting process and associate it with creative geniuses who come up with breakthrough ideas that disrupt the market - but is that the reality, asks Charlotte Burgess and Arun Malik from innovation consultancy Promise Communispace.
Promise Communispace surveyed 61 brand executives and interviewed 15 from leading companies including Philips, Nike, eBay, IBM and Pret a Manger about their attitudes and approaches to innovation. One of the things that stood out is how much innovation relies on people. The key task of an innovator, contrary to popular belief, is not to come up with ideas, but rather to be a catalyst for change in the business - by engaging people in the innovation process and seeing an idea through to market.
Here are some other myths busted by the research:
- Innovation is only about new products Most of the professionals we surveyed think innovation is about more than one-off inventions. Charlotte Newton, an Innovation Leader at IBM Europe, distinguishes between 'invention', which might come from an R&D department, and 'innovation' that delivers value by deploying new or existing ideas within a different context. Joe Harpaz, Senior Vice President at Thomson Reuters, told us that the highest return on investment for innovation often comes from continuous improvements. In all cases, those interviewed agreed that an innovation is only meaningful if it delivers value to the customer.
- Structure kills innovation Despite the compelling vision that innovation happens in moments of genius while you are lying on bean bags in an open-plan office, the majority of the companies we spoke to apply a clear process to the discipline. "You need the structure to go from a small and passionate team to showcasing [an idea] to the CTO," said Jonathan Gabbai, Head of International Mobile Products for eBay, which holds an annual internal Innovation Expo to showcase ideas from across the business. Thomson Reuters has a catalyst funding programme where ideas crowdsourced internally are presented to the CEO. The strongest are given seed funding. As well as financial rewards, this programme brings with it internal notoriety and kudos, according to Thomson Reuters' Harpaz.
Constraints can in fact be liberating. Promise Communispace has found that by putting at least one hard constraint on idea generation can accelerate the creative process. When working with Etihad and their customers to reinvent the customer experience for their new luxury fleet of A380s, the company mapped out the exact dimensions of a first class seat with masking tape to help stimulate ideas around the ideal seating experience. The attendeees immediately started building upwards, creating high closed-off spaces, more akin to creating their own individual cabin. Many of the concepts created now exist in Etihad's new fleet.
- Speed to market is everything A focus on rapid results can mean that there isn't always the same focus on really understanding the barriers to success, according to Barbara Schandl, Global Shopper Insights at Mondelez. However, speed in getting new products to market is an advantage. Pret a Manger's action-orientated approach allows them to have an idea, such as their cold pressed vegetable juices, and to get it to market in under six months. But the innovation process doesn't stop there. They use control stores to try out new things and adapt them.
A concept can succeed or fail based on the name, its description or placement in store, so activating the product once it is in store is as important as creating the product itself. Other companies follow this approach. For Antonio Hidalgo, Head of Strategy & Innovation, Philips Consumer Lifestyle, "It's not an innovation until it's living and breathing in the market."
- The best ideas come from the lone creative genius Experience tells us that innovation through collaboration and teamwork produces better results than working in isolation. To harness the power of a team you need to build relationships and trust. IBM's Newton also identified the need for trust, "For people to embrace something new, there needs to be a degree of personal trust."
At Pret, for example, teams are rewarded rather than individuals. This creates a sense of joint ownership and fosters a team culture. Innovation at Nike is a team sport. That means that everyone has clearly defined roles, and each does their best to take the product to the next level. According to Gorkem Gulan, Merchandising and Product Manager at the brand, "The striker doesn't want to save a penalty. They focus their energy on scoring and trust the others to perform their role".
- Knowledge is king Where innovation is concerned, too much knowledge can actually be a bad thing according to our interviewees. For IBM's Newton, "Knowledge is like cholesterol. It's vital for survival, but too much of it can block the organisation's arteries." She believes that ideas can remain within an organisation for far too long and that, "Knowledge destruction is more important than knowledge creation." She compares a company to a living organism that needs to flush out things that don't work to remain healthy. eBay's Gabbai builds on this metaphor, "If an idea fails, it is very important to do a post-mortem to understand why it failed, and to share that within the organisation so that you can build a collective knowledge."
- Innovation comes from within While one of the most fertile sources of innovation can be found inside the organisation, many professionals we interviewed acknowledged the limitations of relying purely on new ideas generated internally. "We see what we want to see; external voices combat this." said Hidalgo, who has been driving the change at Philips to seek inspiration from external partners. Some 60% of key innovations at Philips are now developed in collaboration with external partners, compared with 20% four years ago.
The power external partners have in challenging the organisation to think differently was also voiced by Christiaan Pinder, Senior Product Manager at Aviva. This was demonstrated by their recent collaboration with Barclays, where they were encouraged to make their idea 'real' by physically building an interactive customer journey. This allowed them to be involved throughout the concept development process, empowering the team to make small but important tweaks.
The innovation myths that this research busted serve to highlight just how fraught with confusion the term can be, and just how difficult it can be to implement. A better understanding of the discipline is critical, but working in collaboration with external sources - and specifically with consumers themselves - can provide the inspiration, need, speed, and flexibility that can drive positive change company-wide.