Why do you want to innovate? Yes, I know that building an innovation culture has rapidly moved up the corporate agenda over the last few years to the extent that on average 79% of executives now see it as a top three priority, but why do you want to innovate? You see, ‘Building a Culture of Innovation’ within your organisation isn’t something you should do to follow the crowd, nor is it a bolt on extra which largely enables you to carry on as before.
The truth is that in order to become an organisation which sets innovation at its heart you have to have the understanding, the drive and the determination to completely transform your culture. It’s not rocket science, but it does require structure and purpose. And as with anything worthwhile, having a deep understanding of the end goal will help you to stick to your plans when the going gets tough.
With that in mind, let’s look again at why you might decide that an innovation culture is right for your organisation. In truth, there are many reasons why a business may wish to move towards an innovation-led model. Agility, faster product development, boosting efficiency, staying one step ahead of the disruptors, meeting the Generation Z imperative; all these and more might well be on your ‘reasons for’ list, but I suspect that for many of you the true reason, the true driver of change, will be people. More specifically – your customers.
If enhancing customer experiences is driving your move towards adopting an innovation culture, you are not alone. 69% of manufacturers cite satisfying existing customers as their top reason for innovation whilst 85% of executives see innovation as a way to improve the customer experience. It’s hardly surprising, because when you build a culture of innovation, you are not simply looking to create real solutions; you are looking to co-create the future. And when you think about it, who better to know what they not only want but really need than your customers themselves. The caveat here is always the Henry Ford quote “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” in so much that customers can’t tell you exactly what they want. But neither can you give them ‘cool stuff’ without understanding them and their world better. For me it’s not only about ‘co-creating’ with customers but taking a step back, it’s also about what I call ‘co-identifying’ with them.
The logical consequence of this is that your customers aren’t simply the main reason for you building a culture of innovation, at the end of the day they will also become some of the main drivers of your innovation efforts. But that won’t happen overnight. Building a co-created and collaborative innovation ecosystem takes time. However, there are a few key areas which will help not only to accelerate the process but also to place your co-created innovation approach on a firm basis. Essentially, these areas form the basis of one of the models I use with many of the corporate clients I work with; ‘Building a Next Generation OrganisationTM’. The three components of which, are Intelligence, Collaboration and Adaptability.
Let’s start with intelligence. In a technological age it’s very easy to gather data, but having information doesn’t necessarily mean that you understand your customers. ‘Intelligence’ focuses on the skills behaviours and capabilities required to genuinely understand the world better and be able to delve beneath the data to understand real wants, drivers and needs in order to be able to unearth problems, opportunities or ideas that will transform your organisation and your customers. And what better way to really understand your customers than to collaborate, to work with them to co-identify issues, problems and opportunities.
‘Collaboration’ then looks at what needs to be in place in terms of solving the problems or opportunities you identify. The inconvenient truth is that most, large, complex organisations don’t leverage the skills, experiences and capabilities they have internally, especially around innovation, let alone tap into the power of the external crowd. The collaboration challenge requires a fresh approach to how people work together and what expertise, creativity and perspective is required to solve new challenges in new and different ways. The by-product being innovation!
The final component then looks at how to enhance your capacity for ‘Adaptability’, i.e. bringing smarter products and experiences to market in a comparatively short space of time. Speeding up time-to-market for internal and external solutions and new ways of working will not only make you more efficient, it will also help in delivering differentiated ways of shaping markets and even creating new ones.
As the innovation process feeds on itself you find that you start to co-identify, co-ideate and co-create in order to ultimately co-innovate in an endless cycle which creates differentiated products, services allied to exceptional levels of customer experience. This then acts as a spiral of continuous improvement in which you use innovation in order to create a collaborative and unique experience which delivers innovative solutions.
When you challenge and engage your people in the innovation ideal, amazing things can happen. When you add your customers into the co-creation mix then you are placing your organisation firmly on the pathway towards delivering exceptional customer experiences. Yes, building a culture of innovation can deliver so many positives in so many areas; but if you need one good reason to hang on to, then for me co-creating genuine solutions to drive customer experiences is all the reason any business which genuinely cares about its customers would need to build an innovation culture.
Get a copy of my latest book ‘Building a Culture of Innovation’ for more insight into how to become an innovation-led next generation organisation.