The Challenges of Innovation

The Challenges of Innovation

Innovation. It’s a good idea, right? In fact, it’s a great idea. If it delivers value.

Hands up who’s seen those pet projects – weeks, months, years of beard-scratching over a concept. A concept that no one completely understands, and no one seems accountable for.

So why is it that innovation so often goes nowhere? Why does so much time, effort and money pour into having-a-go at innovation? I think the word itself might be to blame. Clearly people think innovation is a lofty pursuit of something out of reach, exotic, unique, the stuff of legends. They imagine that when they track this thing down and tame it there’ll be a fanfare, fireworks and fame. So, they go big. They dress it up like they’re going after the Loch Ness Monster. They assemble the team, kit themselves out and off they go. The rest of us are left standing, full of hope yet somehow wondering whether the thing they’re pursuing is actually real. Or not.

Spoiler alert: It’s more likely that Nessie exists than most innovation programmes will deliver value.

The word “Innovation” itself is the challenge

Let’s park it for a moment and think instead about the value. Defining innovation as “a new way of doing something that delivers value”, or “a way to do something new that delivers value” is a good start. It grounds our thinking in reality, but it also liberates us by giving us a focus for our natural curiosity. We can start exploring what we do, the way we do it, who we do it for and what influences their attitudes and behaviour. This is all real stuff, it’s relevant, it’s not the pursuit of fantasy.

Choose your weapon

Broadly speaking there are two types of innovation – or pursuits of value – Sustainable Innovation and Growth Innovation. Sustainable Innovation is about making something you are already doing more efficient and effective; sustaining the business model that you already have, achieving quick and effective wins. Growth Innovation on the other hand is about building new revenue streams; growing by changing your business model. It is more radical and requires a degree of confidence and proficiency. For those who are fresh to the innovation journey or struggling to gain traction (that’s most people), my advice is an 80:20 split in favour of Sustainable Innovation activity. Choosing the wrong approach can be costly to the reputation of an innovation team or anyone who pursues change. Most people bite off more than they can chew. Keep it manageable and keep it focused on understanding and delivering a real, human difference that is valuable.

Make the pursuit of value a habit

Remember what I said about running? It’s that. Start with small steps. Get into the habit, build up some innovation muscle memory. Get some credibility before you go trying to secure C-level support and funding for a bigger endeavour. Believe me, the hardest thing for most would-be innovators is securing funding. And that’s why people fall into the trap of pursuing and promising a colossal, spectacular and ultimately unrealistic result. You and your organisation need to become comfortable with the idea of innovation and the reality, so innovation doesn’t become a dirty word.

Are we there yet?

Finally, if you overcome the challenge of demonstrating value, you need to demonstrate results. Get a solid measurement programme in place. Most people don’t know how to measure. As my colleague Brian Curran explains through his ‘Value Equation’, you’ve got to have behavioural, attitudinal, operational and financial measurements, in order that you understand how your customer is feeling, thinking and behaving as well as how your business is behaving. You need to establish a baseline today, so you know you’re getting movement tomorrow. If you don’t, you can’t track what you’ve done and what works. And you’ve guessed it, you won’t get momentum behind your innovation efforts. It’s just hit and hope. That’s a lose-lose because you’ll be wasting people’s time and money and you won’t know how to repeat what works.

So, what now?

If you’re thinking big innovation, pick something smaller. A series of moments for the customer or a series of automated tasks in a process. Get down to something you can execute and change in 20 weeks. You could literally have something new in a matter of weeks that’s delivering results – and build momentum from there. A 3-year innovation programme won’t work. It’s just too big if you’re just starting out.

Focus only on those customer moments or a series of operational tasks and you stand a chance of having something executable and being able to measure the results. And knowing how to measure is as critical as is having access to the data that allows you to measure. If you don’t have these in place it’s the first thing to fix.

Build a common language of innovation on your team

Image credits: Pixabay

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Neil SholayNeil Sholay is re-shaping innovation and digital experiences as a Vice President of Digital Innovation for EMEA & JAPAC at Oracle. He leads a curious, multidisciplinary team of thinkers, Ideators, strategists, designers, developers, storytellers, rebels and proud geeks, who are reshaping Innovation and digital experiences. They bring new ideas & business models to life, using co-innovation and rapid prototyping.

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