One of the hot topics in our world today is innovation. Companies love to broadcast to the world that they are a leader in innovation. If you google “innovation” you end up with about 321 million hits. If you google “innovation in business” you get about 960 million hits. It’s a topic that’s on everyone’s mind.
And with good reason. Things change so quickly. A company may come up with some kind of new idea, but it seems that almost immediately all their competitors have the same thing. It’s not possible in today’s world to come up with something great and then ride it for 20 years. No matter how great it is, it’s obsolete almost overnight. Perhaps the only long term sustainable competitive advantage that really exists is the ability to innovate.
But what is “innovation”? Quite often when we visit with business leaders, innovation means something like “creating a new product”. People are trying to roll out new product lines, new services, new features, etc. And certainly that all qualifies as innovation.
One of the dictionary definitions of innovation is “A new method, idea, product, etc”. Note that “product” is only one of the things listed. “Method” and “idea” are there too. I think a lot of businesses miss out on opportunities to innovate because they’re only thinking about product innovation. Ask yourself:
- Where can we innovate? Think about every part of your business. How could each process work more smoothly? What are you doing simply because “we’ve always done it that way?” And don’t limit yourself to production. How can you be innovative with your human resources? How can you be innovative with finance? IT?
- Who are our best innovators? Think about everyone who is part of your organization. Who are the people to consistently come up with new ideas? Who are the people who are always challenging the status quo? Hint: it’s not necessarily the people who are in “R&D” positions.
- What can I do as the leader to encourage more innovation? One of the simple definitions of leadership is removing barriers so that your people can do what they do at a high level. What barriers exist for your people to innovate? What tasks are they performing that aren’t really necessary or could be done by someone else? Are you creating an environment where those innovators have the chance to innovate?
Innovation may not be the only key to success in today’s world, but it’s certainly one of the big keys. Steve Jobs said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Which are you?