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Breaking down the barriers to innovation is as simple as ABC

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One thing every business owner can agree on is that they want to lead an organisation that creates long-term, sustainable profits and prosperity. With the onset of the new, knowledge-based global digital economy (GDE) these goals are attainable by firms of any size and virtually (both literally and figuratively) located anywhere.

As innovative, transformational technologies become readily available to anyone able to access them through a connection to the web, there is no more advantageous time to start a company with global reach. With minimal costs and a little guidance, what once might have been labelled a local endeavour can now have a major impact as a mini-multinational – regardless of where they’re located.

That said, whether you’re based in Silicon Valley on just off the Silicon Roundabout, currently there is cacophony of consultants and processes purporting to be able to lead businesses through the innovation wilderness, often for a hefty fee. Thankfully, there are a number of simple steps, embraced by most successful companies thriving in the GDE, which take nothing out of already stretched budgets – but, instead, can be instrumental in attracting profits, both tangible and intangible, to a business’ bottom line.

The following key insights have been collected from my interviews with more than 100 international innovators, thought leaders and successful entrepreneurs. They underline how to translate innovative ideas into commercially profitable outcomes without having to go cap in hand for capital funding.

ALWAYS CHALLENGE EVERYTHING, especially the ‘accepted wisdom’ on how to do things.

“Too many organisations unconsciously don’t want innovative new ideas that, by definition, challenge the status quo.  Instead they favour a kind of groupthink where “everyone knows” that a certain idea, process or way of doing business is the right one.  And all too often if anyone challenges this accepted wisdom there are negative consequences.  For many people its much easier, safer and more comfortable to go along.” 

  • Rob Atkinson (President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation).

Never accept the phrase, “That’s how its always been done” – how its always been done has got you where you are today; it won’t get you where you want to be tomorrow.

“Technology had to do several important things at the time and none of the technologies available could do any of those things. It was, basically, mandatory to invent a whole new system, which is what we did. We set up a team at the BBC making truly effective, interactive teaching and communicatory tools and, 20-odd years later, that team is still behind SMARTlab.”

  • Lizbeth Goodman is Professor of Inclusive Design and Chair of Creative Technology Innovation at University College Dublin, Board Member at the Innovation Academy, Founder and Director of SMARTlab and Director of Research at Futurelab Education.

BE OPEN to constructive feedback at any stage – defensiveness is a fence between you and success. Innovative ideas can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Innovation, as a term, connotes challenging the status quo. This approach can often put team members and other stakeholders on the defensive, which is unfortunate. Instead of working with you, some people can become roadblocks to innovation. We make a point of bringing everyone along with us on the journey to the development of innovation.  Once individuals are bought into the premise, they are more likely to fight to make it happen.”

  • Brianna Sylver, Co-Founder and President of Sylver Consulting.

If you celebrate the innovative within your company your employees, colleagues, customers and clients will feel safe in bringing their ideas to you – and one of those ideas may be just the one you were looking for!

Leaders who understand the imperative of innovation not only encourage employees to innovate, they protect them, and also set aside funds to enable employees with the insight, perspicacity and courage to innovate.”  

  • Abby Bloom, co-founder and CEO of Acu Rate, thought leader in innovation in healthcare and medical devices.

COLLABORATE AND COOPERATE as much as possible. Ensure that a range of experience and expertise is represented in brainstorming sessions. Bringing the cross fertilisation of ideas into play equates to a greater likelihood of reaching the goal.

“…you can be the equivalent of a Ronaldo or a Messi and feature in some short term returns by being totally individualistic. However,  if you want to make a real contribution you need to develop the individual skills that can make you a valuable member of a functional , integrated  and highly effective team.  Of course, part of  the challenge is finding that team.” 

  • Professor Gordon Wallace, Executive  Research Director at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science

Working together, as a team, sharing expertise, experience, insight and inspiration, is by far the best way to break down the barriers between a potential idea and an innovation put into practice.

I believe in walking the talk – or rowing it.  If you’re trying to influence behaviour, the best thing you can do is to exemplify  behaviour, and through your own life demonstrate the benefits.” 

  • Roz Savage, author, adventurer, environmental campaigner, and holder of four world records for ocean rowing, including first woman to row solo across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The challenges between business owners and managers alike is to create a collaborative, cooperative culture within the company so it can be globally competitive. These ABCs give you key insights as to the strategic capability necessary not just to navigate but to thrive in the knowledge-based GDE and, in doing so, lead your business to an exciting and profitable future.

All quotes courtesy of ‘!nnovation: How Innovators Think, Act and Change Our World‘ by Kim Chandler McDonald (published by Kogan Page)

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