Innovation is therefore, for many, a key driver of growth. Companies can still look to make incremental improvements in their ‘traditional’ products and services and the processes which provide them - but they also need to pioneer real innovations in their business processes, distribution, value chains, business models and the functions of management.
But it’s not so simple as calling everyone together and telling them to ‘have some new ideas’ and waiting for them to roll in. That does happen - there’s always the ever-present danger of senior management reading a book over the weekend and hoping that by talking about a process then that process will happen.
Sadly, innovation isn’t about incantations in that way - creating and sustaining an innovative and creative atmosphere in the company doesn’t just happen by hoping for it.
To build the sort of company that has the right conditions, you need to look at your people, your structure and your corporate culture.
Leading the change
The first people who need to get with the programme are the senior leadership. Too few in top management make serious attempts at explicitly driving innovation. It is often (literally) not on the agenda - too rarely discussed and far from front of mind in the strategic planning processes. There can be a feeling that the day job is complicated enough, thank you.
That approach from the top sends strong signals to everyone else in the organisation - a sign that they needn’t bother. Innovation means change and the effort in delivering that can take away from the ‘day job’ and any incentives associated with that.
In other words, it can cost people money in the short term which is clearly a disincentive. For change to be embedded in the culture takes real effort to win over hearts and minds and leadership teams need to drive the right behaviour - the lateral thinking, risk-taking, diversity of approach that can make a big difference in the long run.
Part of that is to define the right kind of innovation - to not make the sort of wide-eyed jumps that ended with the Segway or Google Glass. Managers need to explain what sort of progress they are expecting - in product, supply chain, marketing or elsewhere. If you don’t tell people what you want, don’t be surprised if you don’t get it.