I see it used, all too often, as a buzzword, but here at PlazaBridge Group innovation is our real passion. A recent Atlantic article by Emma Green, Innovation: The History of a Buzzword, sparked the embers of my inner linguist. I flipped open my dusty etymology dictionary to get at the root of the word. Don’t roll your eyes, this is not some dry academic pursuit! In fact, innovation is the key to bringing your organization out of the failed models of the past and into the future of business.
The root of the word is Latin, of course, and has a sense of restoration or renewal, not the modern sense of “new and cutting edge.” Appropriately, it is a noun of action. As Green mentions, the sense of the word began to change with Austrian economist, Joseph Schumpeter’s differentiation between the processes of invention, which was creation purely for the sake of creation, and innovation, which was the application of invention for competitive advantage.
Innovation was once an actual process instead of merely a concept opined about in the media. The model was a pyramid. Theoretical research formed the pedestal, often funded by government grants, the next level was the development of that research into specific applications, and the capstone was the commercialization of these applications into products and services. It was a model that propelled the U.S. into world technology leadership. Unfortunately, now there is a period of innovation stagnation in the U.S. market, which can be traced back to many different social, political, and economic factors (ones that I will not broach in this blog post). However, I feel some of the major obstacles to modern innovation are the deep cuts of the Lean Six Sigma culture. What were meant to be precision cuts to eliminate waste turned into indiscriminate hacks and slashes to every limb. Processes are now too lean, making it hard for innovators to introduce even the tiniest, but beneficial change.
It is here that PlazaBridge Group thrives. As thought leaders in innovation growth, our skilled, multi-disciplinary team has helped many organizations analyze their products and processes, identifying the right change for the right context, and advising steps that can unwind lean processes to allow for innovation. My definition of innovation, uniquely, combines the modern sense of new and cutting edge, with the root sense of restoration. I believe that by restoring (and adapting) the active model of innovation that companies can open exciting new vistas in the twenty first century. The addition of analytics to the model is essential, the very soul of innovation is driven by adoption, and data on consumer use is ubiquitous. This feeds back into the loop to inform future theoretical research and expanded application into new markets. Innovation is not goal to be met, and then forgotten. In essence, the process of innovation has no cap stone, it is, instead, a continuous cycle.
I have found in evangelizing innovation to my clients, that many feel that the time is not right, or the ground is not firm enough under their feet. While it is true that the current landscape and tools of business are a protean thing, shifting constantly and upending the old order, this does not mean it is time to be wary, in fact the opposite is true: be BOLD! The time has never been riper for introducing new and innovative models. Larger corporations are by nature more resistant, they have the mass to plow through, for a while, but even they will need to address the realities of a new order sooner rather than later. SMEs, however, need to be daring today if they are to meet the challenges of tomorrow. It can be daunting to look for the unexpected opportunities or take the unexpected left turn, but that is where SMEs and Start-ups have an advantage over large, established organizations; they are nimble enough to change direction quickly.
It is time for true, not speculative “buzz-word”, innovation to become an imperative for SMEs and Start-ups who wish to stay competitive in the global marketplace. There are some tips you can follow to implement true innovation early in 2014.
- Embrace Innovation Growth. This seems like a self-evident point, but you have to understand your business intimately before embarking on the road to innovation. If your company does not whole-heartedly embrace the goal of innovation growth then it will be a failed endeavor. This is ultimately dependent on your business culture. Your employees are the gatekeepers of your business culture, they will either work with you toward your innovation goals or they will work to foil them. Also, decide whether your company is introverted or extroverted (a concept that I will cover in a later blog post) this fact will dictate the steps your organization takes in enacting innovation.
- Know your sector. Businesses in different sectors innovate in different ways, based on different needs. So, it is a futile effort to follow the innovation path developed by a retail chain if you are in manufacturing. This is not always fait accmopli, there are many creative ways that you can adapt portions of such plans to meet your needs, but you must consider the “macro-sectoral specifities” (i.e. the big picture) in applying the innovation model to your business.
- Embrace collaboration. Innovation growth requires collaboration for SMEs and Startups who do not have the R&D budgets of Fortune 500 companies. It is beneficial to seek out strategic partnerships with other firms, NGOs, universities, and the like to help you reach beyond the limitation of you own resources.
- Share what you know. Collaboration will go nowhere if you are afraid to share the wealth of information that you have already collected. Likewise, you cannot convey to your potential customers to depth of your thought leadership and innovation if you do not share the story. In this way, content remains king. And long form content at that. It is imperative to assess what you know about your organization, products, and sector, and transform that knowledge to leadership.