Someone has wisely said, “You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
Given the uncertainties our businesses and lives are subject to, we must find ways of maximising our impact every moment of our life. Businesses have to increase their efficiencies, improve productivity, acquire new customers, and extend the range of their products or services; sometimes, they have to develop entirely new products or services either to address the unmet demands of customers or to create a new market altogether. How else other than continually improving our methods, venturing into new areas and domains, expanding the scope of our work, or making some breakthroughs?
Which route to take?
Ideally, we must work on all these possibilities because they are all independent streams and can run in parallel. We know that each of these routes is uncharted and hence, we can never be sure of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We may have to change course, abandon some of the projects or start some new ones along the way. In either case, organisations must invest energies bravely to bet on some tracks and start the haunt of the proverbial gold.
Some efforts could be aimed at making incremental changes in the business process, improving product features, discovering new markets, or understanding the changes in preferences of existing customers; sometimes, the efforts could be aimed at bringing out a major change, a breakthrough or implementing a completely new idea. In either case, the process is creative and engaging.
What are the right ingredients?
We need a team who is passionate about innovation to own up to the project and work on it with dedication and focus. The project must be backed up well by the senior leaders in the organisation and be in the spotlight. The top management must be involved in identifying the opportunities, forming the projects and being the sponsors so that they are involved in the project.
While the execution must be top-class and every attempt will be made to succeed, there is a chance of failure. Everyone in the team and the top team must accept the fact that some of these innovation projects will fail. Team members must not feel threatened by failures; neither should they expect any major gains in case of success. They need to understand, it is a part of their job.
Organisation culture plays an important role in fostering an innovation culture. Listening, empathy and transparency must be in the cultural fabric of the firm so that ideas from all stakeholders can bubble up and the right efforts are invested to review these ideas and prioritise a bunch of them over the rest.
One-time activity or ongoing?
One wonders if such a programme should be ongoing or a periodic exercise. Every organisation operates in a unique context such as competitive forces, macroeconomic factors, and industry realities. Innovation programmes need the investment of money, time, people, and other resources such as facilities, technology partners and external agencies. Leaders must evaluate if the innovation efforts can be a competitive advantage for them and the returns they can generate out of these programmes and can accordingly decide the tenure, frequency, and scale of these programmes.
Irrespective of the agenda, duration, and scope of the programme, at its foundation, we need hands-on leadership by the top leaders of the firm and a culture that supports innovation.