Tag Archives: Corporate Innovation

Innovation and Internal Competition

rodneyThere are many elements critical to a successful innovation program, such as focus, a good process, and resources. Many organizations put all of these elements in place, but they still end up failing. Interestingly, their programs end up creating worthwhile projects, but the projects never materialize or are rapidly killed.  What happened?

When this occurs, many times it’s because the innovation teams worked in a vacuum from the rest of the organization.  (I immediately think of this clip from the movie Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield  In this clip, Rodney talks with a business professor about how to start a new company).  By this, I mean that they didn’t consider the “real way” that things work in the organization and believe that the sheer brilliance of their ideas and projects would cut through any organizational issues.  In most cases they are wrong.  For the most part, large organizations are built to kill ideas–they can’t help it.  There is competition from existing projects, political connections, important customer issues, and legal areas.  New ideas can easily be quashed by any of these, so it’s important to figure out a way to navigate through the organization in order to bring these ideas to fruition.

One of the best ways to mitigate many of the problems you’ll encounter with internal competition is to get a sponsor.  Sponsors have several characteristics:

  • They have political clout–usually higher level executive
  • Have experience in an area important for your project
  • Can pull resources
  • Provide sound advice

Sponsors will help drive success for a project by providing these valuable assets.   They also will help you with the 80-20 rule, or in other words, they know how to get the most out of the organization with a minimal amount of effort.  Think about something simple that you want to do, like plant a garden.  You may have come to the conclusion that a garden would provide your family with lots of benefits, such as low cost, organic, and fun.  If you’ve never done this before, there are a couple of ways to go about it.  You could go to the library, local nurseries, and the internet and research the best practices for planting. You’d try and learn the best times, best plants, and best cultivation techniques.   Without a mentor, you’d most likely make some mistakes, i.e., planting too early, picking the wrong varieties, or not using the right fertilizer.  However, if you talked to your neighbor (who has had a successful garden for the past 10 years), he’d be able to tell you exactly what to do.  He’d provide helpful advice on the best things to plant so that you’d get the best yield, avoid bugs, and prevent rabbits from eating everything.  He’d know where to get the best deals on supplies, and he’d probably have helpful tools for you to use, like a rototiller.  The best part is that you’d learn all of this information is a short amount of time, and you’d get someone who would help you through the entire process.

The same is true for an organization.  A sponsor can help you quickly navigate all of the issues that you’ll encounter and provide you with advice and resources to get to your end goal.  Sponsors usually have “skin in the game” as well, and will benefit from your success.  They may be the ultimate manager of the product you develop, or it might be their customer’s problem that gets solved.  They’ll be able to shield your project from others, and insure that it moves forward, in essence, they’ll mitigate the competition.

There are two ways to go about finding a sponsor.  First, you can sell your idea to potential sponsors, hoping that one of them will adopt your project.  Second, you can talk with potential sponsors about what issues that they need solved and try to innovate for their success.  I believe that the second way is easier because you’re helping them with their problems, and the “sale” is easier.  The downside is that your ideas may not be 100% yours, and you’ll have to be flexible to make it happen.  However, if you’re successful with this approach, then you’ll gain more and more success, and have more control over what you create.  Think about teaching one of your kids to drive.  The first few times, you make certain that you have lots of control over the situation by picking the location and time.  However, as they progress, you become more comfortable with their decisions, and eventually send them on their own.

Time for Innovation

Recently there have been mixedreports about the state of the currentUS economy. While some areas aredefinitely showing signs of improvement,it’s clear that we have a long way to go before we seea full recovery.That’s why it’s more important than everfor American companiesto innovate -that is, tofind new ways to cut costs, streamline processes, and possibly even find that new breakthrough product idea. But with budgets and resources becoming more strapped by the quarter, it’s a game of doing more with less than ever before.

That’s whymanycompanies are turning to Open Innovation and self-driven programsto find the answers.Whereasin the past, companies could call on outside firms and consultants to help thembrainstorm and source product development initiatives, most companies today have begun to recognize the wealth of untapped knowledge and experience within their own organizations and have started collecting ideas from within.

Collecting the ideas is the easy part, though. Reviewing and managing ideas through a vetting process,and fully understanding theimpact and benefit of launching a new project is where things begin to get a little dicey.

An increasing amount of companies are finding success in this area withFlagpole. Flagpole’s application puts these functions on the web and into the capable hands of those who really know your business. For some companies that can meanan idea drive for internal employees. Other firms might see their user community as the best source for suggestions about how they can improve.Or maybeit’s your partners or investors that see your business from a slightly different angle.

Whomever your companyidentifies as its core audience doesn’t really matter. It’s just important that youget everyone talking and innovating. Now more than ever.

Research Towards Innovation

It is said that the more you know, the more that you can do with what you know. That’s why using research to breed innovation is essential for your business.

A corporate Research & Developmentdepartment is an extremely important resource, but they typically tend to focus onnear-term andshort-term opportunities: Theday to day improvements, thelaunchof a newproduct, the “low-hanging” fruit, as it were. A trueresearch strategy involves a long-term approach and commitment to understanding the ways your market will change over time. In other words, putting research into practice means lookingintothe future,well beyond your current business model, to find new ways toimpact slow and steady growth. This may require road-mapping your business according to new ideas, expert projections, and sometimes evenmajor paradigm shifts.

Unfortunately, research such as this can be both expensive and difficult to perform. Many companies in this economy have been forced to cut spending inevery department,and usually one of the first tobe affected is the research team. However, ashortsighted decision to save moneynow by axing research,may truly hurt your business in the long run.

Research does not have to be a huge expense, though. Customer Feedback is an excellent way to gather information, discover trends, andpredict thefuture of your industry. Managed efficiently, itcanprovide an enormous competitiveadvantage. By staying in touch with your customers’ wants and needs, you can find out a great deal of knowledge that can be practically applied to your business.

Acquiring feedback can be as simple as launching aweb-basedtool like Flagpole. Flagpole deploys quickly and creates an easy-to-use sharing ground for ideas andsuggestions fromyour customers. You can directly ask them all the questions you need answered by issuing challenges.Your employeescan also participate by submitting their ownanswers and ideas, andby voting and commenting on those received from your customers.This will begin tobuild strong and meaningful interactions between your company and your user community. What yougather from these interactions and ideas willundoubtedly help you predict where your market is heading, and where your company needs to be to stay ahead.

To learn more about Flagpole, or to sign up for a completely free version, visit: http://www.flagpole-software.com/price.htm

Research Towards Innovation

Using research to breed innovation can be essential for your business. It is said that the more that you know, the more that you can do with what you know.

Research, unlike R&D (research and development) is more like a long term commitment whereas with R&D it focuses on the short term. Looking beyond your business current practices, research can produce slow and steady growth for your business.

Unfortunately, research comes with costs involved. Many companies in this economy have cut spending in all departments of their business and this may have affected or axed their budget on research. This can be a very shortsighted decision as this may save money right now but has the potential for your business to come out the loser in the long run.

Research does not have to been a huge expense. If you use customer feedback to your advantage, it is a form of research. By tapping into a consumers wants and needs, you can find out a great deal of knowledge that can be practically applied to your business. Acquiring feedback can be as simple as a meeting with your customer, picking up the phone to call them or by sending them an email. What you learn from these interactions can help grow your business.

Changing with the Times

Recently there have been signs of an improving economy. While this is good news for us all, it can especially be good for U.S. companies. In these times it is important for a business to have the ability to be innovative by focusing on their future rather than focusing on what is going on at this very moment.

Global growth in the future will be found in emerging markets of the developing world. Businesses who do not recognize this could find that their success may be limited by their shortsightedness. Rather than focusing on where they are right now, businesses need to change with the times by focusing on where they are going.

Since the emerging markets will have a lower GDP (Gross Domestic Product) than westernized countries, it you may need to tailor your products or services to their needs. In doing so, you may find that this tailoring may offer new ideas and help in the creation of new products or services that can be applied here in the U.S.

An important thing to consider is that developing countries cannot be simply considered for the marketing of your current business products or services. They can be the springboard that launches your business into the future.

Innovation through Customization

The word custom when used as an adjective gives the connotation of exclusivity and that it is special. If you have something customized for you, it has a stamp on it that says that it is you. This is why customization can be very appealing as a business innovation.

What if you started with a very good, basic product and asked your clients what they would like to add to it or how they would like to change it? This would open a dialog between you and your consumer that can help develop your products and services to fit their needs exactly and therefore ensuring future business.

A past slogan of Chryslers was If you can dream it, we can build it.” Given the state of the car manufacturers right now, that slogan might not have really worked for them, however the sentiment is viable.

If you present consumers with a can do attitude and can offer them the ability to tell you what they would really want, it can increase your products or services desirability. Additionally, by making your customers feel like their needs are met and that what they have purchased from you is customized to their needs, you can get more business from their referrals.

Incremental Innovation

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time is the reply. How can your business succeed in the long run? This can be done via incremental innovation. Sometimes small changes designed from research and the use of creativity can make a big difference in your business.

While a fantastic product innovation can immediately boost the bottom line, innovating incrementally can build to success over time and can be more dependable than relying on the next big idea.

You can accomplish a lot with sure and steady developments that bring consistent growth for your business bottom line. By communicating your vision to consumers and employees that can implement that vision, success is more likely. Additionally, looking outside for ideas is not a bad idea. You can learn a lot from competitors and other industries that can be modified and applied to your business.

The important thing is to consider even the smallest changes you make to any product or service you provide seriously. Whether they work or not, you can learn from every situation. Keep in mind that the worst thing that a business can do is to do nothing. If your business does nothing and your competitor does something, you lose.

Problems Can be a Good Thing

You know that ah-ha moment that Oprah is always talking about? In business innovation, that is exactly what you are looking for. Finding the best way to evaluate your problem can bring that moment of clarity to life for you.

In your business, the very nature of the problems that you encounter requires the ability to consider many different points of view, opinions and personalities. Your customer, employees and the marketplace all have different considerations such as what they want, needs or simply desire and the constraints that come along with all of those things. If you are dealing with complex problems, your solutions will come to you when you have found the right way of looking at the problem. Finding the proper balance is the key to any problem solution.

It is important to gather the right information before moving towards a solution. This information can complement what you have already learned and can help you make the decisions needed. It can come from the outside in the form of experts in a particular field, your suppliers and sometimes learning from what your competitors have done or are doing with a similar situation. And learning from others mistakes can be your best innovation.

Its All About the Customer

A driving force behind innovation is the customer. They are clearly in control of the buying and selling process. How can your business adapt to their needs and provide solutions for them?

If you simply listen to your existing and potential customers, you can get good insight as to if your product or service will be a success or a failure. You can also find out how much they want to pay, if they will give you repeat business and if they will recommend it to their friends. Their likes and dislikes can help us shape what we offer into what they really want.

If you take customer feedback seriously, we can adapt our business to fit their needs more closely. Their feedback can also help in the development of new goods or services or may offer new ideas on how to use or adapt your existing products.

Customer feedback can be acquired through face to face meetings, phone calls, emails or online surveys. A customer feedback form can also be included in your products packaging for them to fill out and mail to you. (It is recommended that postage should be prepaid so that they will be more likely to send it in.)

Failures Help Businesses Stay Innovative

Try and try again, so the saying goes. The simple question is, if we do not know what does not work, then how will we know what will?

Thomas Edison worked long and hard to create the light bulb. In the course of his work, he tried 10,000 times to no avail. However, he did not see the 10,000 times as failures. He said Ive found 10,000 ways that dont work. If we approach each failed attempt at innovation with the mindset that we are not getting anywhere, we will not.

With each of our attempts, it is important to have a system of rapid decision making that helps the project along quickly while learning each step of the way. Each attempt should be evaluated and then is either accepted or discarded. From there, you can develop the accepted attempt or move on to trying something new.

According to author and motivational speaker John C. Maxwell, we fail forward towards success. We can try and try and fail one time after another, but it can take just one win to spell success. It is in the act of the attempt to reach the goal that moves us forward towards accomplishment.