Innovation is often seen as an activity focussed on product development however, a truly innovative business should strive for creativity across the whole enterprise.
There are some widely-held myths about the meaning of business innovation. Sometimes these can lead to energy being wasted in the pursuit of illusory goals, whereas at other times there is a feeling that the cost of change is just too high.
Innovation is a high-risk activity
The biggest risk is that your company will be overtaken by a nimbler, more aggressive, more innovative outfit. Anything can be copied within weeks and there’s little you can do about it. The days of milking that cash-cow year after year are gone for most enterprises. Monoculture is dead and space has to be created to plant the seeds of the next innovation. Be the hare, not the tortoise.
Innovation means deep thoughts
Are you running a business or a philosophy course? You may indeed be asking some tough questions about your products and company but writing a thesis is unlikely to lead to innovative product development. Don’t disengage your brain but do start to use all the other faculties of sight and sound and touch. Make innovation playful and engaging, allowing ideas to fail without seeing them as failures. Both artists and scientists know that some of the best ideas seem to come out of thin air. However, for this to happen the mind must be primed for innovation. It should not just be a scheduled activity but a deep aspect of the whole company.
Innovation is a desperate measure
One of the biggest mistakes is to start innovating when you can smell trouble ahead. It’s probably too late by then. The free-flow of energy and ideas that create an innovative culture just get blocked and distorted when people are under stress because the company is in trouble. Excitement is innovative, stress is not. If you’ve reached this point then it is time for widespread corporate innovation rather than just product development.
Innovation is best handled by one department
It is a fundamental mistake to think that you can create an innovative company by just having one innovation department, be it marketing, research and development or a blue-sky group. For one, this is limiting the creative potential of the whole company, and as a consequence if the rest of the company does not feel ownership of the new ideas they will likely resist them. You do not want your colleagues playing tug-of-war with each other. You will never know at the start where that bright spark will come from so make sure the electricity of innovation is flowing through your whole enterprise.
Innovation is about new product development
It might be, but it doesn’t have to be. Innovation can just as easily be about making your product cheaper, finding new markets and distribution methods or making the product more flexible so that it will appeal to a broader audience. But guard against fixating so much on one successful product that it becomes stale and boring. The biggest leaps in productivity are often not so much in new products but in a change of business strategy. Creating a company as a network of innovative individuals means changes can come from any sphere of the business.
Innovation is about the future
When is the future? Next year, next week, after lunch? The future is always just in front of us. The world is random, chaotic, fast-moving and mutates out of all recognition from one day to the next. You either keep up or get out as there is no mercy out there. This may seem harsh but tinkering around with a successful product line is going to guarantee that it will be copied very quickly – and improved! Somebody will take the next innovative leap forward unless you do it first.