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Putting innovation at the top of the agenda

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Innovation is often treated as a project and handed straight to a committee, a R&D person, or a middle manager and we quickly see a pattern emerging of few decisions really being made. They will commonly focus on incremental changes to current products rather than the step changes required from a successful innovation process that produces impressive and tangible results. Innovation needs to be driven into the organisation as a culture, hence the need for it to be top driven.

Companies are recognising the need to look outside their own four walls and take lessons from other industries and markets. So, not only should innovation come from the top-down, but appointing a ‘champion’ is essential. In large organisations, such champions may have the freedom of being disconnected from additional operational responsibilities and the traditional reporting structure, enabling a more dedicated focus.

The role of the ‘Innovation Director’ is becoming more common as CEOs recognise that growth and sustainability must come from getting products to market faster whilst de-risking the process by backing the right product or, in other words guaranteeing market impact. 

One of the greatest challenges for most companies, and yet something that must be done, is to ensure that dedicated time is created for innovation related activities. A company may find that not everyone values this time, so setting goals such as firm KPIs on ROI from innovation related activities is a good idea. An Innovation Director or CEO shouldn’t be afraid to say “I want 25 per cent of revenue from new ideas developed in the last three years.”

A common problem for many companies is the development of creative ideas. Most traditional industries will have never come across creative ideation techniques, let alone adopted them to regularly encourage innovation from all team members. It is important to make ideation techniques (such as SCAMPER or the ‘six thinking hats’) part of an innovation culture where they are used repeatedly and suggestions can be made freely.

The key to long-term business success is to continue working on the innovation agenda; the last thing a company should do is sit on its laurels. Not only can disruptive technologies or industry game changers come along, but product life cycles continue to get shorter and have therefore become a key factor in company strategies. 

Just think about how quickly a product such as the latest mobile phone can reach a million customers in today’s market, compared with the first black and white television. The journey to end-user or consumer might be slower in traditional industries but the pace has still picked up. Innovation and NPD therefore needs to focus on accelerating the process and maximising impact as efficiently and effectively as possible.

 Andy Dean is REACH Director at Pera Technology.

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