What does innovation mean, and when can it go wrong?
Better, cheaper, faster…. 3 key words businesses bandy around when thinking about their products or services. What does better mean? Does better mean cheaper? What if cheaper compromises quality? Is being faster a good thing if it comes at the cost of customer service?
To balance these potentially conflicting aims, businesses turn to innovation. Which begs the question – what does innovation mean, and when can it go wrong?
Creativity and innovation
I had the privilege of attending a business breakfast hosted by Helen Graney, Managing Director of Jack Morton in Australia (a global brand creative agency) to discuss a recent white paper they have published on the topic of ‘creativity and innovation’.
The paper is very insightful and you should all have a read: Cannes Lions 2014: What we saw, what we liked, and what we learned from Kanye West.
It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to discuss with the other attendees how each of our respective businesses dealt with creativity and innovation. It was equally as fascinating to see the similarities between those organisations that innovate well, and those that believe they are innovative, but end up chasing their tails.
In my previous position as a Management Consultant at McKinsey & Company, my role was to help clients work out how to drive operational improvements and to help them think outside the box to achieve this.
Thinking outside the box
This employed a particular structured process as follows:
1. Identify the key issue that needs to be solved
2. Work out how the issue is best solved within operational parameters
3. Involve key staff to gather input
Although most businesses think of being innovative as an end goal, I see it as a journey, which requires the involvement of key staff from the frontline as well as those departments charged with driving ‘innovation and creativity’.
Frontline staff and the innovation process
More often than not, one of the key mistakes I see businesses make is forgetting to involve the frontline staff in the innovation process.
Frontline staff are the ones who understand customers best – what makes customers tick, and what annoys them. The daily interaction by frontline staff with customers, and the information databank which these interactions create, is often overlooked and underestimated.
Golden nuggets of information
Innovation is about finding better ways of doing something. So why would businesses ignore what customers are telling them? Too often, businesses miss out on golden nuggets of information which would allow them to innovate by making the process non-collaborative and confining it to specified teams.
Being inclusive and involving front-line staff allows a business to really tap into what their clients want, enabling them to develop products and services which are new, original and tailored.
A flat diagonal ‘innovation and creativity’ system
An illustration of what a good innovation and creativity process could look like in businesses can be borrowed from the Engineering arena. ‘Diagrid’ is a structural architectural creation, which is single thickness and gains it’s structural integrity through the use of triangulation.
As the spelling of the word suggests, ‘Diagrid’ is the combination of the use of ‘diagonal’ and ‘grid’ structures to strengthen a structure.
In my view, businesses should view innovation and creativity in much the same way – work with a flat structure across the board that allows input from frontline staff up to the executive level.
A flat diagonal ‘innovation and creativity’ system within organisations ensures that innovation is relevant to customers. The integrity of the innovation process is stronger when key questions can be addressed from all fronts.
Not only will product development be relevant and tailored, it will also increase morale and satisfaction levels as staff are able to take greater ownership of the end product delivered to customers. When these factors are combined effectively, the sky truly is the limit.
Engage your organisation with a collaborative process
Employing a collaborative process ensures that businesses never lose sight of the key problem they are trying to solve and what customers value most.
‘Better’, ‘Cheaper’ and ‘Faster’ only matters in so far as it is relevant to customers. This information can only be ascertained if key decision makers understand what customers want – and what better resource have you got than your front-line staff?
If you don’t believe me, consider this – McDonalds requires their Managers to serve on the frontline at least once a week. This allows Managers to remain in touch with the companies products AND customers.
So dare to be different. Include your staff at all levels and remember the principle of ‘TEAM’ – “Together Everyone Achieves More”.
Try it and see what golden nuggets you uncover….
Miwah Van - Founder of Unvorsum: Customer Strategy Consulting
Miwah Van is the founder of Unvorsum a new boutique consulting firm that helps companies unite customers and strategy. In her former roles as Head of Strategy & Business Development for Fitness First and as a management consultant with McKinsey & Company she witnessed companies struggling to align strategy across the entire organisation while ensuring customers and staff are actively connected. Unvorsum aims to help companies make strategy executable and performance measurable while gaining alignment with all stakeholders.