The unusual challenges businesses faced over the past year forced leaders in every industry to embrace innovation. While many of those changes were great moves, the path forward will require an equal dose of strategy. These suggestions should help you feed your appetite for innovation in the most strategic manner possible.
Last year, COVID-19 impacted businesses and the people who run them in countless ways. Universally, the pandemic put digital transformation and innovation light years ahead of where everything would have been otherwise. Businesses across industries had to adapt and get creative overnight, unknowingly setting a standard of innovation that’s here to stay.
Ninety percent of respondents to a recent McKinsey survey said they believe the pandemic will fundamentally change the way they conduct business for the next five years; more than 75% of those same respondents said the changes they’ve made because of COVID-19 offer a growth opportunity.
What will likely be the main impact of those shifting perspectives? An ongoing demand for innovation. Consumers have seen the incredible outcomes of the innovative thinking spurred by the pandemic, and they’ll only want to see more in the months and years ahead.
For some businesses, this could pose a challenge. Research from PA Consulting Group suggests 66% of respondents believe their organizations won’t survive without innovation — but only 24% are completely confident they know what they need to innovate and turn great ideas into reality. That’s where innovation strategy comes in.
Without a strategy, many innovation efforts never come to fruition. An innovation strategy forces business leaders and the teams they direct to take a good look at why they’re innovating. It reinforces the action steps needed to execute any great ideas. Most of all, this strategy keeps teams aligned and working together toward a shared goal because the steps necessary to reach that goal are clearly defined.
If you’re looking to make innovation a key part of your business but lack a strategy to make that happen, here are four creative ways to put yourself on the right path:
- Define what innovation means to you.
The first step to take involves defining what innovation means to you. What does it mean for your organization, and how does it serve your business interests? At Whirlpool, for example, an innovation has to create a competitive advantage, compel consumers, provide value to consumers, and offer the potential for further innovation down the road.
It might be a good exercise to reflect on innovations your company has executed over the past two decades to see which drove the most substantial revenue gains and margins. As Tesla CEO Elon Musk once quipped, “I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”
- Set goals before diving in.
Before you try to bring any of your ideas to fruition, spend time outlining your innovation goals and determining how you’ll reach them. If this seems like a major undertaking in and of itself, start by asking the right questions: Why is this innovation important to your business? How would it add value to your organization? What type of innovation do you want? Is that the type of innovation you need?
Once you have answered those questions, review each goal and bring in other team members to do the same. Take as much feedback as you can get, refine your goals based on what you hear, and then forge ahead.
- Build a diverse network of innovators from within.
Innovation requires the right team of innovators. Start networking internally to figure out which people in your organization can help make your innovation ideas a reality. When forming this team, ensure the people you choose bring different perspectives to the table.
Alex Robinson, CEO of Atomic Robot, says it’s a good idea to “exercise patience and start creating diverse innovation teams of employees from different roles and backgrounds across your company. Ask them to leverage their specialties to develop extraordinary products, solutions, and protocols to set your brand apart from the rest.”
- Use software to execute your ideas.
Finally, note that innovative ideas can be difficult to scale. Don’t be afraid to rely on automation software or tech platforms to help you get the job done. Automation frees up time your team might otherwise spend manually performing mundane tasks.
Innovation requires creativity, and creativity requires space and time. Automation gives businesses that time and enables innovators to focus on what they do best. It also leads to increased productivity and better results.
The time has never been better for — or more demanding of — innovation. The past year has positioned businesses to take everything they’ve learned during this challenging time to propel their organizations forward into uncharted territory. As they move into the future with innovation as a top priority, they can lay a strong foundation for success by placing strategy at the core of every innovative idea.
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