Innovation is an essential part of a business continuing to move forward. The form that this can take may vary, from using new technology to developing new products to creating more efficient processes and workflows.
CEOs are faced with measuring potential growth and risk for the good of the business. What’s new, what’s next, what’s on the horizon? Competition is everywhere, and businesses that stand still may fall behind.
An example: Ally Financial CEO Jeffrey Brown was featured in a Susie Gharib story for Fortune, in which he described the “constant pressure” for innovation.
“Your brand, your company will be dead five years, 10 years from now,” he said. “That is a strong statement, but I think it ties right back to the point of how fast technology is moving companies, and I think our customers today are demanding it.”
Here’s a look at how CEOs can approach innovation in business.
Though the word innovation can conjure up images of geniuses in a laboratory or mathematicians scribbling equations on glass, it can be a consistent element in all kinds of businesses. Theodore Henderson breaks down some of the fundamentals in a story for Forbes, noting that innovation “doesn’t have to be the next Google or Microsoft with massive public relations behind it.”
“… In the business world, for an innovative idea to be useful, it has to be replicable without being too expensive and it has to resolve a particular need,” he writes. “Innovation is achieved by providing something original and is often seen to produce efficiency, leading to an idea that significantly affects the general society.”
Make it a part of the culture
If innovation is truly important to a business, the leadership will ensure that it is emphasized on day one for each employee. Deliver a consistent message so that it’s never far from employees’ minds. As Ira Kalb writes for Business Insider, “… Managers need to make sure that all employees know that innovation is a job requirement.”
“It should be woven into the fabric of the business and given a prominent place in job descriptions, procedures, and performance evaluations,” he notes. “Innovation should be defined to include incremental as well as revolutionary improvements.”
Kalb quotes Katsuaki Watanabe of Toyota, as featured in a story by Harvard Business Review: “There is no genius in our company. We just do whatever we believe is right, trying every day to improve every little bit and piece. But when 70 years of very small improvements accumulate, they become a revolution.”
Great ideas can come at unexpected moments. Having a mindset to look for inspiration can help to identify those ideas and help them to develop. Marcelo Claure, CEO of Sprint Corporation, talked about this in an interview with Alexa von Tobel for Inc.com. He stressed the need to “constantly observe the world around you, in business and in life, through the lens of your customer.”
“Always look for ways to do things better, to stay ahead of the curve and differentiate yourself in your industry, and make your customers’ lives better and more productive,” he said. “No matter where you are in your day, whether you are in the office interacting with your colleagues or out buying coffee, soak in everything and ask is this an opportunity to learn? How should I apply these learnings to my company?”
Challenge traditional thinking
A long-running business may naturally take a different path toward innovation than a startup or tech-based company. Large operations can mean more voices, more processes, more layers, and that can translate to moving slower. Gary Beckstrand examines older legacy companies in a story for Entrepreneur, saying that “some are so entrenched in the things they’re already good at that they fail to change and adapt.”
“These companies, that have established themselves as a market leader over decades of a solid track record, can allow themselves to get caught in this scenario in which they are so profitable in what they’ve always known that they neglect to stay inventive,” he writes. “In other words, they get comfortable and leave innovation to emerging startups.”
Though these businesses may be doing well financially, Beckstrand writes that they can struggle with generating and implementing new ideas.
“It’s time to curb this thinking,” he explains. “Older companies need to be committed to creating disruption within their organization, with a growth mentality that extends beyond next year’s revenue.”
Communication and collaboration
If innovation is going to be an emphasis, a business needs to establish a strong sense of communication. Great ideas may come at any level, from the CEO on down. The ability to brainstorm and bounce concepts off each other can help a business open new doors. In a story for Inc.com, Greg Satell writes about the need for teamwork.
“Today, even in highly technical fields, there is a strong trend toward teams rather than solitary work, and those teams are getting larger, the work they do is more interdisciplinary and is done at greater distances than in the past,” he says. “The truth is that chief task of humans today is increasingly to work with other humans to design jobs for machines. Clearly, that means we need to spend a lot more time and effort communicating with others than sitting alone at our desks.”
Collaborating with outside sources can be valuable as well. As Faisal Hoque points out in a story for Fast Company: “No organization holds all the cards in developing new innovation. Collaboration with outside groups — complementary corporations, universities, government agencies, and think tanks — often brings new perspectives and ideas to the innovation process.”
Dealing with failure
It’s not realistic to take a failure-is-unacceptable approach in a business that puts a premium on innovation. There will likely be stumbles in the name of progress. As Kalb writes for Business Insider, “Innovative companies recognize that failure is an important step in the process of success.”
“They understand that with each failure, the company moves one step closer to success,” he explains. “In this way, failure is given a positive value. For example, if a successful product brings in $1 billion in sales, and it takes 9 failures to achieve each success, each step in the process (including the 9 failures) can be viewed as bringing the company $100 million in additional business — a positive way to look at failure.”