Businesses talk about innovation every day, but what truly is innovation? It can be a number of things. It can be creating a novel way of solving problems, such as run-flat tyres.
It can be incremental improvements to existing challenges, such as using memory foam in shoes for fit and comfort. It can be taking solutions from one industry or product and solving problems in another, such as using lasers to measure walls in DIY. It can also be services innovation, such as home delivery services introduced by the supermarkets.
The latter example shows just what can happen if businesses don’t innovate. Marks & Spencer and Tesco have both lost sales to their rivals because they didn’t innovate in their delivery and product offering, even though it was foreseeable almost a decade ago that divergence was on its way. Fortunately for me, I have worked for a few innovative companies run by innovative minds, supported by knowledge and considered strategies and where the product is truly at the heart of the company.
But in stark contrast, I’ve also spent time in companies run by individuals who are accountants or professional managers, who have never taken the risk to set up a business and who look for personal wealth and position ahead of the needs of their company. It could be baked beans or cars, they don’t care. A person keeping the status quo with steady growth and not maximizing the potential of a company and its people, is he a leader or a caretaker?
Anecdotally, the companies where I experienced the former have the happiest staff and are more successful. They suffer less staff turnover, a better life-work balance and sit in one of the most successful industrial nations in the world, Germany.
Why do I mention this? Well to compete in established markets you can’t continually put out the same product. You have to bring improvements and freshness, or you get overtaken and have to rely on increasing sales through new markets. Maybe this is seen as innovation, but we are talking product innovation here. To enter an established market as a new challenger you also have to be better in some creative aspect.
I worked for one business where all that was demanded was more ranges and more products because 90 per cent of sales were coming from the old established ranges which made up just eight per cent of the range size. There was no considered strategy and it still limps on to this day with unaligned messages and greedy, self-serving managers who are under-performing to a marked level.
Innovative companies have determination, knowledge, guts, and an ability not to accept the status quo. So, first of all look at your organisation. Whether big or small, it is you and your people who have the skills to bring informed change. Are your people facilitated and encouraged to challenge?
Are they not only capable of taking an informed risk, but also supported in doing so? It is the people that make ideas and use them, so start with the people - the users, customers and creators and become experts in their needs and behaviours.
Then you will see an opportunity and a product will be behind it. Only by starting here will you become an expert and a leader. Innovation coaching and processes is what we can help with. From company structures and attitude forming, to product design and engineering. So if you have an appetite to grow through innovation then get in touch.
Find out more
Specific product development and innovation support, including the UCLan Innovation Clinic, is available through Boost for ambitious businesses looking to launch new products. Start the growth conversation by completing our online form or calling us on 0800 488 0057.
Martin Jones, Innovation Manager for the UCLan Innovation Clinic.
Martin’s background is in product research design and development, with a specific interest in product performance and consumer behaviour. He has worked for some of the biggest names in the product and retail sectors, bringing to market leading technologies in the sports performance industry and in broader product sectors.