Why companies need to love and embrace innovation instead of just appreciating its value
By RAJ KUMAR
We have heard of the saying “Innovate or die”, but I would go to the extent of saying you must love innovation or you will eventually die. But why must we love innovation and not stop at, say, liking or admiring it, as most would do?
Greek mythology defines love in three categories, namely, Eros (Erotic), Agape (Divine) and Philia (our “practical” love for people, friends and things). The latter, Philia, defines and initiates our deeds and actions.
If you love travelling, you might constantly seek cheap flights for your next travel adventure. If you love reading, you will at all times be trying to get ahold of something to read. Practical love motivates us to take proactive actions and initiatives in passionate pursuit of the subject at hand. So if love defines our actions and initiatives, why should we not love innovation?
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Companies that love innovation are the ones that take a proactive approach to reconstructing and disrupting the markets and creating blue oceans opportunities for themselves. They don’t just survive but thrive in tough times. The workplace becomes an exciting one full of creativity and imagination.
Companies that love innovation like 3M, Lego, General Electric Corporation, Whirpool Corporation, Volvo, Starbucks and others have been around for years and will continue to do so because of their love for innovation and creativity.
Surprisingly, there are organisations that view innovation as something that is ‘nice to have’ instead of a must-have. This is rather alarming because innovation is no longer a luxury or an “accessory” but a necessity.
However, innovation doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive endeavour. There are practical and cost-effective ways to implement organisational innovation regardless of the size and nature of a company.
Since we are on the subject of loving innovation, I will use the acrostic L.O.V.E to introduce action points that help organisations fall in love with innovation and implement practical solutions to inculcate it in the DNA of the organisation:
L – Lock in ideas!
An organisation that is hungry for ideas is an organisation that loves innovation. Take Lego for example: they don’t just get ideas from their employees but also customers and fans via crowdsourcing. The platform ideas.lego.com is an open platform to get ideas for Lego models, design or projects from fans around the world.
On this platform, any teen or adult Lego user can publish their proposal for a Lego set or a project, including ones that the company could potentially commercialise. Fellow users in this online community then vote in support of their favourite proposals.
If a proposal secures at least 10,000 votes of support from fellow users, the Lego review board will evaluate the idea or project accordingly and decide if it can be transformed into a new Lego set to be produced and sold around the world. This is a true example of customer engagement and innovation at work.
Harnessing the creativity of the community leads to the creation of innovative products that in turn promotes the brand’s sustainability. If your company wants to fall in love with innovation, then the first step is to lock in those great ideas, not just internally but externally as well. Create a platform; it need not be expensive. There are many tools out there to help you lock in ideas.
O – Operationalise a system
It is not important only to lock in the ideas; you must see it through to implementation. Lego has an internal system of managing these ideas and making sure there are guidelines even for when the ideas are submitted at the start.
It’s important for companies to have a system that incubates ideas into execution and put proper processes in place to ensure the ideas are collected, managed, and executed with appropriate resources allocated to the system.
From my observation, most companies like to have innovation as a brand value or included in poster on the wall. But there are no systems in place for it. Innovation becomes a buzzword but is not operationalised as if it were embedded in the DNA of the company. Having innovation as value on the wall is not enough and will not take you anywhere; you need to have a system in place to be an innovative organisation.
It is possible to put a system in place to manage organisational innovation. One great example is a government-linked company in southern Malaysia that collaborated with us to put in place an innovation strategy, innovation team, systems, toolkits, handbooks, idea generation and idea management processes, procedures, and even project coaching for execution.
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V – Value innovate
All innovation activities, ideas and projects that are initiated must be aligned with the company’s vision, mission and strategy. These innovation initiatives and ideas implemented need not be expensive and should in fact be guided by the principles of Value Innovation.
Value innovation is an important action point for organisations to better appreciate innovation and fall in love with it. A cornerstone of blue ocean strategy, value innovation is about increasing value and reducing cost at the same time. It is a great concept created by Professor Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne to help companies break the value-cost tradeoff.
Today, value innovation is a must-have and can serve as a guiding star to ensure profitability for an innovation initiative, idea or project in the company.
Many companies think of innovation as an expense but organisational innovation is actually an investment and should be cost-effective when the principles of value innovation are correctly applied. In fact, the return on investment is great when you get ideas that generate tremendous value while reducing costs at the same time.
This is truly worth the one-off investment. I am pleased to see our very own Pos Malaysia jumping on the bandwagon and creating products such as EZiPoz (solutions for e-commerce customers) and Pos ArRahnu (microfinancing for the less fortunate).
E – Embrace change and enjoy the ride
Finally, an organisation that loves innovation is one that embraces change and enjoys the ride. Times will always change but the company that has a love for innovation will embrace change and not fight it.
Such companies will continue to innovate, be ahead of the curve and drive change. So, instead of taking an ad hoc approach of defending and reacting, why not innovate and stay ahead of the curve?
A great example of a company that continuously innovates and has, in fact, expanded beyond their field, is Amazon. If you go their website, you will be amazed at how Amazon is embracing innovation and driving change.
From creating new subscription-based services to having drones deliver packages, Amazon continues to push boundaries in innovation. The convenience of their one-click ordering and buying system is truly innovation at work. But this isn’t an easy task for the organisation. It takes boldness and commitment to change, as we can see from the quote below:
We’re a company of builders. Of pioneers. It’s our job to make bold bets, and we get our energy from inventing on behalf of customers. We’re always looking for the next one.
Proactive vs Ad hoc innovation
The innovation canvas above shows two types of organisations in existence today. The first type loves and embraces innovation while the other views it as a “nice to have” element.
We can see that while both organisations may have produce the same hype and excitement about innovation, one takes proactive actions compared to the other. This is where they break away from each other.
For example, the proactive company has a solid idea management process where ideas are harnessed from all parts of the organisation. There are also dedicated teams for innovation.
The proactive company embraces value-based innovation – the ones that increase value and reduce cost. The company that embraces innovation is the one that invests in an innovation system or ecosystem with all the right processes put in place for holistic innovation management.
There should be a system to harness ideas and manage the development of those ideas into projects and eventually see through their execution. Resources and manpower should be allocated through effective gatekeeping and governance. Proactive companies do not settle for the status quo as they embrace change and are in it for the long haul.
Suggested reading: In Creating A High-Value Anthrophillic Organisation, Start With Culture!
Many industries are being disrupted today, be it banking, healthcare or the many more to come. This is the age of disruption. If you are in an industry that is facing disruption, then all the more should you start loving innovation.
Take proactive measures and get the entire organisation involved. If you are a chief executive officer or even heading up human resources, initiate and take practical steps to dive into innovation as soon as possible.
Innovation is no longer a ‘nice to have’ element but a must-have. Invest in it. L.O.V.E it and you will reap the benefits at all levels while injecting excitement and creativity for your organisation.
Raj Kumar is the CEO of UCSI Consulting Group and is an expert in blue ocean strategy and organisational innovation. He believes that all companies big or small can embrace, implement and benefit from organisational innovation. Follow him on Twitter @rajkumar77. If you would like to engage with him, you could email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.