5 pillars of innovation that every business can use.

Let’s talk innovation. Can big businesses innovate? They have the resources, industry expertise and distribution at their disposal. They just need the right mindset, tools, and people. That is what most people say, right.

That opinion was given a spin in a great article I read a few months back from DDB in cooperation with Byron Sharp at the University of South Australia. The thinking is significant because it challenges the long-standing business premise that growth is anchored to a consumer who makes reasonable and logical decisions to advance his lifestyle. Now, more than ever, we are living in an “age of unreason.” DDB summarizes it to 3 bullets.

  • Feelings Conquer Thinking
  • Culture dwarfs Category
  • Long term beats Short term

They resonance deeply with me so I started to question how do these 3 short branding statements affect our innovation process?

For starters, they highlight the need to include the consumer in our innovation process in a way that include his motivations, the unmet needs, the concerns, and the desires. Our emotions are deeply rooted in unchanging feelings that should fuel our innovation process. God knows we are not rational thinking beings. We have seen quite a lot of this lately, if you know what I mean.

Innovation in my experience is just code for good corporate culture. Having an open-minded, empathetic and inclusive culture in your organisation that embraces new ideas is a must if you aspire to be innovative. Looking at what your competition is doing within your product category is important yes, but what is more important is to look wider and foster a culture where trying and failing is ok as long as you share your learnings to the rest of the organisation. Your brand should be as articulated in its image and values that it can frame what can fly under it without being limited to a category. And remember, rigid hierarchies sucks if you want to generate a steady stream of new ideas. The few people in your organisation who are willing to try need to be encouraged.

Drawing from our 20 years of experience dealing with companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500s, we know that short-term thinking can irreparably damage a company in the long haul. An article from the Harvard Business Review shares much the same stance. If the whole focus of your organisation goes to quick, short-term, low cost and low risk projects designed to entice people to a deal or gimmick, then you’re likely to leave a historic trail of products or services that no one cares about. For that, consumers, retailers and employees will associate back negatively to your brand. Restoring a brand with a damaged image is very costly and takes time. Think about your legacy. It’s those long-term emotional associations that dictate brand revenue over time rather than short-term deals. That is why innovation is king.

Here are my 5 pillars of innovation that every business can use to succeed:

1.   Differentiate between data and customer insights.

Behavioral data often gives you tons of information about What, When, Where, and How, but not so much about Why. Customer insights on the other hand is all about the drivers, the motivation, the unmet needs, the concerns, and the desires; the fuel for your innovation, your marketing and untapped development opportunities.

2.   Create an environment that embraces risk.

Business managers tend to minimize risk, optimize processes and make changes with extreme caution. Most of them are afraid to fail, ending up by doing nothing, until doing nothing is an even bigger risk. That’s a poor environment for innovation.

3.   Be opportunistic and prototype, often.

To unleash the innovative power of your business, you must be willing to take risks, go outside of normal processes, and get into a habit of prototyping new ideas all the time. Seeing, feeling, touching and trying gives others the ability to provide feedback. If you get into the habit of this, you will see how much more people are willing to provide feedback on prototypes rather than on a verbally idea presentation. Rapid prototyping machines are really easy to use now days.

4.   Let go of control; incentivize instead.

The only way to do that is to give the entrepreneurs and ‘the crazy ones’ in your organization freer reign. Manage them with incentives and not rules, processes, checks, and balances. Micromanaging innovation will never work because, per definition, real innovation is a high risk venture with many uncertainties. If you manage real innovations like “a normal project”, then you will fail.

5.   Create a system for continuous customer and market feedback to understand the real habits, rituals, and beliefs that will empower your organization (the lifeblood of an innovative business).

It’s hard to make your customers change their behavior. Apple and Procter & Gamble, for example, make a point of engaging customers directly to generate new ideas. They develop new products and services based on superior end-user understanding

 

 

 

 

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