Innovation is key to developing a competitive edge-in any industry. That’s what are proving each year many companies, such as Apple, Google, Nike or Coca Cola. They are universally recognized for their efforts in terms of innovation; they glow in very different fields such as technology, graphic design, human resources, manufacturing process…
Innovation is found at all levels: in production, in the products themselves and in management. The question is, though, what specific steps can companies take to spark innovation?
Here are three tips for creating an environment that fosters innovation.
1. Don’t Fear the Unpredictable
The buzz phrase “innovation management” might well be considered an oxy-moron. Without a doubt, the more you try to control innovation, the harder it is to inspire actual innovative ideas.
Although innovation can certainly be institutionalized, it is pointless to try to force innovation using rigid structures or procedures due to its inherently spontaneous nature. Nevertheless, companies can and should establish programs to foster innovation (such as idea incubators, in-house contests, collaborative platforms and innovation consultants). It is important to remember, however, that major breakthroughs most often result from mistakes rather than from set procedures. Remember the Post-It—a wildly-successful invention that resulted from glue that wasn’t sticky enough!
2. Rethink your Business Model
Do you have a clear picture of the direction you want to take your business? Don’t be afraid to challenge your plan, to deviate from it or to imagine other possible paths. In the end, innovation arises from the ability to reinvent yourself.
As Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of GE, explained: above all else, a company must constantly reassess itself in order to thrive in the long term.
« If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got », said Albert Einstein.
Many companies have found success by adopting concepts that differed from the ideas they originally started with. Others have defied convention by daring to create unexpected combinations, such as Steve Jobs’ great successes combining technology and design.
3. Stimulate Cross-Fertilization
A strategy for innovation cannot be successful if carried out in a vacuum. While experts can definitely play a role, don’t underestimate your own staff as a source for creative ideas. To take advantage of this untapped resource, companies are launching participation-based programs to promote innovation, open to all employees.
Other companies are looking to outside talent to spur creativity. For instance, in an attempt to rekindle the spirit of a start-up, Google has established its London-based co-working campus, which brings young entrepreneurs together to focus on various web-related projects.
Everybody has a different approach, and this is what is most important when it comes to innovation. As Steve Jobs said, “Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have… It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”