Look back to move forward: Innovation is a must to become, and remain, a market leader

Examples of innovation in more established companies are less common but the most impressive ones are those who are prepared to relentlessly innovate and seek new opportunities.

A few come to mind such as General Electric which may be over 125 years old but is testing and adopting new technologies like a teenager.

BMW who are completely re-imaging its business to be at the forefront of “personal mobility” rather than just making cars.

And Red Bull who have excelled not through product innovation but by re-writing the marketing model for its category.

Our top tips for market leaders looking to innovate would be:

(1) Find your purpose and truly live it through every element of your company. Your purpose is why the company exists. It is the thing the founder(s) wanted to achieve from the very beginning – which almost certainly was not “make money”.

(2) Be more externally focused and develop and nurture more partnerships with very different, new, modern companies. You cannot and will not win on your own. The future is more networked, more collaborative and more open.

Leverage external entrepreneurs rather than the usual marketing agencies – they are bound just as much by legacy thinking and legacy systems as you!

(3) Think about innovation beyond products alone. Look at your processes, your systems and even your business model. This is where the really big opportunities are and where the rules are being most profoundly re-written.

(4) Let go. Stop trying to control everything. We are in the midst of massive change – you cannot control that. Start experimenting. Let your more junior people try stuff and lead stuff – they are closer to how the world is changing than you. Test more. Fail more. Because you will learn more.

(5) Adopt a constant state of beta testing and have a bias towards action. You will learn more by doing something than you ever will by hypothesising and discussing it. People have a tendency to try and perfect an idea on paper and through business cases before they ever move towards execution. This is madness!

Create a prototype as early as you can and then test and iterate relentlessly in order to optimise a solution BEFORE you scale it.

With innovation in mind, Virgin Atlantic’s CEO may cause alarm with his revelation that Richard Branson inspired him to think of planes as “test labs”.

Shilen Patel is the founder of innovation and corporate venturing agency Independents United.

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