There is no blueprint to business success, and no growth strategy in the enterprise is a surefire bet. However, there are a few universal truths. For example, we know that the digital marketplace is constantly changing, and successful leaders need to understand innovation. That’s fine to say on a conceptual level, but success is not about innovation. Innovation for the sake of innovation delivers zero value. What successful leaders focus on is meaningful innovation.
Let’s take a deeper look at why meaningful innovation matters—and how enterprise leaders can master it.
The Importance of Innovation
All the technologies we now enjoy were products of innovation—I’m talking about everything from your toaster to that smartphone in your pocket. When we look at innovation from an enterprise leadership perspective and not from a consumer benefit perspective, though, we view it through a completely different lens.
Even the most successful, innovative companies go through what Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education refers to as the S-curve, depicted in Figure 1 below. It shows a cycle of growth, stagnation, and maturity many of you will find familiar.
Let’s focus on that innovation window, the one depicted as the first growth curve meets an inflection point. That would be the time for action, right? But how do you know when your curve is starting to crest? You don’t—which is the entire case for innovation.
Over the course of your leadership lifetime, there will be many S-curves with which you’ll need to contend. If you embrace innovation as a continuous process, you’ll save some serious downtime. Now the question becomes how, exactly do you do that? Let’s explore.
Tips for the C-Suite
When the Boston Consulting Group released its report, The Most Innovative Companies 2015, it provided much more than a simple ranking of those organizations excelling at innovation—it also keyed in on precisely what differentiates the high performers. As you can see from Figure 2 below, innovation is at the top of the priority list for most companies. There’s a lot to learn from the following four highlights—for example, how do these CEOs approach leveraging technology and management strategies to boost innovation and, ultimately, drive business success? Let’s take a closer look.
Work with technology, not against it. According to the report, embracing technological advances was the single most important factor driving innovation for the most successful companies. It seems obvious, but take a moment to really roll that around in your head. It’s no secret that evolving technological platforms and big data are here to stay. The difference, rather, is how actionable leaders make that observation. What good is knowledge if it isn’t employed? Innovative companies embrace new technologies at every opportunity, opening doors for reduced costs, boosted efficiency, and increased revenue.
Rethink R&D processes. R&D is a creative endeavor particularly well suited for leaders who embrace innovation, but that innovation must be applied to processes, too. This point goes back to working with new technologies—following lean principles can bring higher quality products to market more rapidly, allowing your business to stay ahead of the game.
Focus on speed. When it comes to innovation, speed is everything. Recall the S-curve I discussed earlier from Figure 1 above—the quicker you embrace a new idea, the quicker you can swing through the mid-curve stagnation and ascend into another new growth phase. The last thing you want for your business is to constantly get bogged down in the development phase. That’s the opposite of innovation, and presents a key opportunity for your competitors to leverage. As a leader, you should be ready to take reasonable risks and make decisions with both sound judgment and speed—without that approach, innovation is not possible.
Keep your eyes on adjacent markets. Most high performing companies in the Boston Consulting study systematically explored growth in adjacent markets. As these markets mature, competition will increase—that’s why getting in on the ground floor is so important. If your portfolio is starting to slow, don’t hesitate to look outside the box to bring in new opportunities for your organization.
The Innovation Formula: PxQxT
Obviously companies want to leverage innovation for business success. But don’t start with the idea of innovation itself. It’s too easy to get seduced there by things that aren’t really innovation at all. Think Coca-Cola and its 1986 rollout of “New Coke” — and what a flop that was. What about a service that sends someone to fill your car with gas, or delivers a new toothbrush or razor blade to your mailbox every other month. What about Google Glass? Was that innovation or annoyance or technology that the world wasn’t yet ready for? What about single use kitchen gadgets—avocado slicers, tortilla rollers, sausage sandwich makers, or apps that let us brew our coffee from anywhere. Those aren’t exactly innovative. Or are they?
I think not. If it doesn’t solve a business challenge or a business problem, it’s not meaningful innovation—it’s likely innovation for the sake of innovation. If you really want to focus on innovation and building a business case for meaningful innovation, it’s not all that difficult. Start with whatever your business challenge is and use what I call “The Innovation Formula.”
The Innovation Formula: Price x Quality x Time (PxQxT) solves 100 percent of your business case. Every single time.
Let’s explore further. When you are focused on meaningful innovation, there are three dimensions to consider:
Price. You can drive differentiation via cost innovation. To do this, you must focus on things like how you can optimize production and processes, and how you can produce more inexpensively.
Quality. You can drive differentiation via quality. This means you innovate on features offered, in materials, in level of customer service provided, etc.
Time. You can drive differentiation via speed. This might be faster time to market, faster to produce, faster logistics, faster design cycle, etc.
A commitment to meaningful innovation is anything but a one-person project. It starts with strong leadership and requires commitment that starts with senior leadership and filters throughout the organization. It’s the leaders who can embrace innovation, and who know the difference between innovation for innovation’s sake and meaningful innovation, who can truly make a difference.
Where is your company on this front? I’d love to hear about your leadership philosophy as it relates to innovation, so tell me about your strategy in the comments.
And if you’re interested in more on innovation, check out this post on Visible vs. Invisible Innovation – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic as well.
Some of my other work includes:
Want to be a Star Marketer? Get Into Operations
Smarketing: Sales and Marketing Meets the Business of Growing Business
This post was first published on LinkedIn.
Vincent Brissot is the Head of Channel Marketing & Operations at HP. With some 14 years of experience in channel enablement, business development, and marketing, he has a comprehensive understanding of and expertise in the IT industry related to hardware, services, and software. Vincent has worked in multiple countries, in regional and worldwide roles across Enterprise and SMB market segments. You can follow Vincent on Twitter @VincentBrissot and also find him on LinkedIn.