There has been a growing debate in recent years regarding the nature of innovation and how companies should approach it. At Koombea we believe that innovation should be an essential part of every company’s culture. However, we also recognize that not all companies have the need to embark on the same innovation processes. This can vary a lot depending on the industry as well as on company-specific characteristics.
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In this post we discuss the importance of innovating persistently and how companies can embrace innovation in a smart way. Innovating within your company, even for small things, is the best way to stay relevant in an ever-changing world.
We are living in a world where knowledge has been commoditized. Thanks to the internet, many barriers have been torn down. What really matters to companies is not knowledge itself, but expanding horizons. Innovation is the best way to do this.
Innovation is not new. Companies have been doing it for quite a while, but it was only until relatively recently that the subject became the object of rigorous academic research. A breaking point in the history of innovation came with the work of Clayton Christensen. In his groundbreaking book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen popularized the idea of disruption as a way for companies to break stagnant and highly concentrated industries. This became particularly true for technology companies. Since then, his theories have spilled over to other non-technology related industries, although this is debatable because everything nowadays seems to involve technology in one way or another.
Even though some of Christensen’s ideas have been discarded throughout the years, particularly that innovation is equivalent to disruption, most of his core principles on innovation are still relevant. In particular, it is worth highlighting the idea of innovation as a way for all sorts of companies to gain market share, and most importantly, to create new markets.
This is the essential idea behind innovation, but it is not the only reason why companies should innovate. We believe that the main purpose of innovation shouldn’t be exclusively to grow but to solve problems.
The Nature of Innovation
Defining the nature of innovation can be very tricky. For a start, it is not static. Like many other disciplines of the management sciences, innovation is constantly evolving. As external and internal elements within companies change, so do the ways to innovate. What worked in the past may not necessarily work in the following years. Being aware of change is the first step to embrace innovation in a realistic way.
A second aspect that makes it difficult to define the nature of innovation is the fact that it is not a one-size-fits-all model. There is a false belief that what worked in company A will succeed in company B. The problem with this misleading assumption is that it fails to recognize that each company is unique.
Koombea has adopted an approach where innovation isn’t just another process. Instead, it has become an important part of our DNA. In other words, we’ve opted for innovation as one of the drivers of our culture. Rather than seeing it as a way to grow, we see it as a way to solve everyday problems. Yes, it definitely helps us achieve long term strategic goals, but it is not limited to it. Embracing innovation as a daily task helps make processes agile and delivers results on a day to day basis.
The Innovation Problem
Problems with innovation arise from an erroneous way of conceiving it. When seen as just another process, the result will most likely be a poor innovation ecosystem within companies. Having an innovation committee or similar approaches are not a guarantee of innovating successfully.
A couple of years ago we had the chance to work with a multinational company that saw itself as being innovative. They had people working specifically for innovation purposes in a specialized team. Sounds great, right? Well, in reality, things were very different from what one would have imagined.
Innovation was not really a part of the company’s culture. It was siloed within a small part of it rather than spread across. Most importantly, the c-level didn’t really believe in the importance of innovation. What they had was more of a vanity metric rather than a real hands-on approach towards innovation.
This mistake is more common than one might think. Many companies fall into the illusion of being innovative when in reality they are just moving around in circles. To prevent your company from making such mistakes be on the look for cognitive biases that can kill innovation.
As with almost anything, there is a right and wrong way to innovate. One of the best ways to ensure that innovation breeds results and does not become a sterile time-consuming activity is to help everyone in your organization understand its importance. By doing so, you will be making sure that everyone participates one way or another in this important activity.
Employees need to innovate persistently on a day to day basis, otherwise, it becomes just another task. By empowering everyone in your organization to innovate, you will be able to tackle problems in a smooth and realistic way. It is also important to invest in people. Great results can only be achieved when you have the best talent.
Approaching innovation in a bottom-up or top-bottom way isn’t always bad, but it’s not the smartest thing to do. Most of the time it is best to solve these problems directly where they occur. Escalating decisions up to management is sometimes necessary, but on many occasions it can easily be done at a local level and as a team.