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Make Your Company an Innovation Powerhouse

Posted By Ron Sidman, Thursday, March 1, 2018

If you want to survive and prosper in this world of fast-paced change  and intense competition, you need to build innovation into every nook and cranny of your company. Business success is all about creating and sustaining a competitive advantage and innovation is the key. 

 

What sets apart companies like Google, Amazon, “Elon Musk Inc.”, and Apple is their extraordinary pace of innovation. Hardly a day goes by when they aren’t announcing some new product, feature, technological breakthrough, business model redesign, or other initiative. As a result, their competitors are choking on their exhaust fumes as they futilely try to catch up.

 

Now, you may believe that rapid-paced, company-wide innovation is only required in the high tech world. But I would argue that companies in the juvenile industry who want to break out from the pack and flourish in today’s very challenging marketplace would be wise to adopt the philosophy that has driven the high tech company boom. And it’s not really difficult to do if you are committed to it. In a previous post, Crafting an Innovation Culture, I talked about how you can create a culture that energizes the implementation of your mission. Here’s how to make sure your culture fosters state-of-the-art innovation:

 

Innovate Everywhere

Let it be known in your company that everything is up for grabs. No sacred cows. You obviously can enhance your competitive advantage by designing innovative new products, but also by creating a clever new way to attract consumers, redefining your target market, revamping your sourcing strategy, leveraging artificial intelligence, simplifying your organization chart, changing your compensation system, entering a totally new category, and on and on. These are all innovations.

 

Adopt an Experimentation Mindset

In the “old days”, companies were reluctant to create radically new products, processes, and business models because of the high cost of failure and related risks to personal job security. Today, it’s easier than ever to simulate and test ideas at low cost rather than immediately take the high risk plunge. We now know Innovation is best accomplished through iterative experimentation. Generate an idea, simulate or prototype it, get feedback from internal or external customers, revise as necessary, get feedback again, and so on until you’ve got something you’re confident will fly. Then you invest the big bucks and make it happen.

 

Encourage Idea Generation from All Sources

Successful innovation is a numbers game. The more ideas coming into the funnel the more great implementable ideas will surface. The nurturing and harvesting of ideas has to be built solidly into your business model so it automatically happens all the time. Identify all the potential idea sources and make it easy and rewarding for people to make suggestions. It shouldn’t be just a passive approach where you wait for ideas to be generated. The search for ideas should be proactive—a part of everyone’s job.  Monitor the number and quality of ideas from all sources and take corrective action if you’re not getting what you need.   

 

Screen Effectively

The quickest way to discourage idea generation is to not provide feedback to idea generators. The well will quickly run dry. Every idea should be acknowledged and responded to with information about the likelihood of implementation. You’ll need a very good screening process to separate the wheat from the chaff. The art of screening is to be able to recognize the ideas that have potential even when they are still undeveloped. You’ll also need a mechanism for refining and implementing the best ideas in a timely manner.

 

Leverage Teamwork and Diversity

Innovation is a team sport. It takes a blend of diverse perspectives to take the seed of an idea and develop it into something that will really work. A team will almost always come up with a better idea than an individual. There’s a magical synergistic effect generated by a cross-functional team trained to build on and implement an idea.

 

Teach Innovation Techniques

One of the most effective things we did at The First Years to encourage innovation was to adopt one company-wide innovation process that people across the company were trained in. We used a technique developed by a company in Cambridge, MA called Synectics. Whenever we needed a new idea or a problem needed to be solved, we got the appropriate cross-functional group together and conducted a Synectics brainstorming session. The more we used it, the better we got at it. And it was fun! 

 

Next Steps

Do a self-assessment to see how innovative your company is right now. Ask yourself if you are generating enough new product and process ideas to keep you out in front of competition for the foreseeable future. If not, consider implementing some of these suggestions. You might be surprised by the amount of creativity in your company you can tap into.

 

As always, if you’d like more information or assistance from me regarding your unique challenges or you just want someone to brainstorm, vent, or commiserate with, consider taking advantage of JPMA’s Executive Mentor Program. Check the JPMA web site for more information or contact Sam Adams at sadams@jpma.org

Tags:  business  competition  innovation 

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