If you are reading this, then you are definitely a consumer of some kind of product. We are sure that you have bought various types of electronic goods in your life, such as computer hardware and software products. The electronics and technology industries experience the most innovation, due to their very nature, so we want to show you the way in which innovation plays a key role here.
A couple of decades ago, you may have frequently used Yahoo as your search engine to acquire information on the internet. You may have relied upon your Polaroid camera to take photos on film. Your cellular phone was perhaps a heavy “brick” and was most likely manufactured by Nokia. Your desktop and/or laptop computer may have been from Hewlett-Packard or Compaq, trustworthy companies in their day. Come 2016, and you most definitely do not use any of those aforementioned brands. You may not even hear of any of these brands any longer!
Nowadays, if you are searching for information on the internet, then you are using the Google search engine. The name is so ubiquitous, is has become a verb! “I am googling this” or “You can google that to find out.” Polaroid has died and now we use digital cameras from various other companies, such as Sony, Nikon, and Canon. Nokia phones are nowhere near as popular as they were a mere decade ago and many new brands have taken over the market, such as Apple and Samsung. HP is not the premier computer brand on the planet now, even after acquiring Compaq.
When it comes to computer brands, the likes of Dell, ASUS, and Apple have quickly made a name for themselves in recent years and if you pop into any office or home (even your own), then you will most likely see either Apple or Dell computers. The times have changed and so have the dominant brand we use in our daily lives and the companies we hear about in the media. Why is that? What caused the other companies to wane in popularity, or even just die out? What caused these new companies to rise in prominence?
The answer is innovation. Innovation is the creation of new products or services based on novel ideas and all of the most successful companies on the planet are innovative in their respective industry. This becomes very apparent in the technology industry because innovation is the name of the game. Without innovating, you will soon become a relic of the past and lose popularity and your consumer base, as did many companies such as Kodak.
However, the companies that always pushed the envelope when it came to innovation were the ones who thrived the most. They have even continued to prosper because of their continual desire to innovate. Desire is only the tip of the iceberg; you need to have a plan. All of these firms have innovation strategies that lay out their vision for the future and detail the milestones they need to reach to accomplish their goal.
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If you are responsible for building the innovation strategy for your company’s next line of projects and helping to propel the company forward into the future, then this guide is just for you. We will give you some pointers on how to develop your comprehensive innovation strategy, giving you in-depth tips and some examples as well to help elucidate these otherwise complex strategies. After reading this article, you will come away with the importance and methodology of creating a unique innovation strategy to help push your company forward.
INNOVATION STRATEGY BASICS
Before we dive straight into developing an innovation strategy, we want to give you the definition of the term. This will help create the groundwork upon which everything else in this article will be built.
A plan made by an organization to encourage or motivate technological advancements, typically by investing in research and development activities. – Business Dictionary
To help make this comprehensible, imagine a technology firm is in the planning phase of launching a new product or service on the market. This company will develop an innovation strategy that involves the implementation of novel management and production procedures in manufacturing to help invent new technologies not yet available by their competitors. These newly invented technologies will be incorporated into their new products to create something innovative and ingenious for consumers.
This is the primary reason for having an innovation strategy – to design something new using advanced research and development techniques. It is a key success factor for many companies involved in the technology industry. With technology evolving every day, these firms need to keep up with the competition in order to stand a chance of being relevant. In the best case scenario, an organization would be a trendsetter rather than a follower. Innovation is not easy but we will help make it just a bit easier.
Examples of Innovative Companies
Earlier in the article, we mentioned some names of companies that are very successful today and have superseded other firms that preceded them. If you pay attention to the news, then you will definitely know of some big tech companies like Apple, Samsung, Sony, and many more.
These companies are very innovative, always coming out with something new every few years to offer consumers something revolutionary and groundbreaking. It was sets these companies apart from the rest of the crowd. By being different and innovative, these companies are better than their competitors or at least compete with the current market share leader to disrupt the market.
Consider Apple, a computer company that was for a very long time playing catch up to Microsoft. Throughout the 90s, they tried to make a better operating system, the Mac OS, than their chief competitor, the Windows OS. They did not emulate their rival’s model of productivity and functionality. Instead, Apple focused more on the aesthetics and the design of their operating system, emphasizing its unique color palette.
The Mac operating system also concentrated on a different type of functionality that is more for media professionals rather than traditional office professionals. Apple wanted to appeal more to creative individuals so they designed an operating system to cater to their needs, with a sleek user interface and a bunch of media programs and applications to help them on their media tasks.
Microsoft did not do that and soon enough, there was a rise in the number of people buying Apple computers because it appealed more to their needs. In addition, the Mac OS was much more secure, being almost virus free. Users loved this and this just brought more people onto their platform. Apple did not emulate, they innovated to create something of their own.
When it comes to the early days of the video games industry, all games consoles had video game cartridges. Sega and Nintendo games consoles used cartridges as video games. This technology was invented in the 1980s and it continued even in the 1990s. However, there was a new player waiting in the wings and they launched a groundbreaking product that changed the entire landscape of video games consoles.
Sony came out with the PlayStation in the mid 1990s that used optical disks, namely CDs, as games. Games were now being released on CDs that had much more storage, thereby allowing game developers to design larger and more in-depth 3D games that can be stored on these disks. At around the same time, Nintendo came out with its Nintendo 64 games console that continued to use game cartridges.
While Nintendo games were beloved by many for games like Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda, many people did not appreciate their outdated technology. Sony had the upper hand in the innovative department with its disk based console. Soon after that, Sony took the helm of the video games console wars and have looked back never since.
General Electric is a very old American corporation that has been manufacturing electric appliances ever since the late 1890s. The late great Thomas Edison, one of the greatest inventors and businesspeople in history, founded the company. With several hundred patents under his name, Thomas Edison used his extensive knowledge to create new and fascinating products at his company.
Since he was a world class inventor, General Electric was naturally very innovative, producing appliances like refrigerators, microwave ovens, and radios that were well ahead of their time in the early part of the 20th century. General Electric then decided to diversify its operations and creating other companies that dealt with power generation, healthcare applications, transportation technologies, oil and gas applications, among many others.
In recent years, they have been spearheading the creation of the Internet of Things, an interconnected network of all types of devices. They envisage a world where all electronic devices are interconnected via a network, i.e. the internet. Since then, many companies have followed suit with IoT but GE is pioneering the movement.
When you think of searching for anything on the internet, only one name should come to mind – Google. The world’s most popular search engine had very humble beginnings in the 1990s but they revamped their algorithm to compete with Yahoo, the number one search engine at the time, and they quickly gained ground and became number 1.
However, Google did not rest on their laurels of just being an amazing search engine.; Google decided to enter the software arena and create a mobile operating system that would challenge Nokia’s Symbian operating system and the Apple iOS, the most popular mobile OS in the mid and late 2000s. Apple had a good grip on the market with their iPhone and the iOS and Google was looking to disrupt that. They created Android, their version of an operating system that every other manufacturer could use on their phones.
In a very short time, it gained a lot of popularity and according to recent studies, Android is used on over 80% of smartphones all over the world. Very recently, Google has even announced its own smartphone, called the Google Pixel, which will launch by the end of 2016. According to several preview, it already has a better and more innovative features than anything else on the market. Google defines innovation these days.
DEVELOPING AN INNOVATION STRATEGY
After reading all of the examples mentioned thus far, you can get a sense of how important it is to be innovative. More importantly, if you want to be innovative, you will need a strategy to map out your entire plan and vision for your company. Innovation of a company is usually strongly connected to its vision, particularly where it wants to project itself in the future.
Organizations have innovation strategies to accomplish the mission they set out on – to envision the world the way they see fit. These organizations do whatever it takes to modify and enhance their operations, production processes, and thinking processes to result in something that never existed before. That is how they make themselves different and more importantly better.
Being innovative is about introducing something new to consumers, but the new product actually has to offer some added benefit to customers to entice them into buying it and using it. If your new innovative product is simply an alternative to everything else that exists on the market, then it will be very difficult to convince people to give it a shot.
Imagine being in marketing and sales of a company and you have to advertise a product that is different yet uninspiring. “Check out this new product that does everything else that our competitor’s products do but does not offer you any added benefit.” That will not get people on board with your product. You need to an organized plan to develop your innovative product that will actually resonate with your consumers and draw in more customers into your vision. You need to develop an innovation strategy.
Studies have shown that having an organized strategy typically results in products that are more successful for companies. Therefore, if you want your company to be as innovative as Uber, Snapchat, Twitter, and Google, then you need to design a well thought out innovation strategy.
Here are some tips on developing a solid innovation strategy to get your creativity juices flowing while your company works hard on inventing something worthwhile. You will notice that a vast majority of examples stated here are tech firms. The reason is simple – technology breeds innovation. Other industries, such as the fashion industry or the food industry, are nowhere near as innovative or groundbreaking so we have decided not to focus on those. Technology firms live and breathe innovation strategies, so following these tips are paramount for tech companies.
Know your Company’s Vision
Before you start implementing any ingenious ideas that you may have in your head, it is best to keep those ideas there and instead focus on the bigger picture – your organization’s place in the future. Where does your company see itself in the future? What does it want to achieve with its products and services? How does it want to interact with customers?
These are all very important and pertinent questions you need to ask yourself and the rest of the company to determine your company’s vision. Introspection will aid you immensely in determining how your organization sees itself now and the things it needs to do to achieve desirable results.
You really ought to follow the phrase “the sky is the limit” because your ambitions for your vision should be limitless. The sky really has no end and you should be reaching for the stars when it comes to your innovation strategy. You need to find methods to make your company shine in the eyes of your consumers. You can do that by being unique; you can do that by being innovative.
Product Driven and Customer Driven
Clearly construct and establish the goals of your product development. Define the product or service you want your customers to use. Far too many companies fail to identify and define the type of product they want to create for their consumers. Many companies want to distinguish themselves as either a pure customer driven or a pure product driven company.
However, the most successful and innovative companies are an amalgamation of the two. You need to conduct thorough market research to understand the problems customers are facing. You need to fully comprehend the market to design something that is useful in their eyes. Many companies overlook this step. They think that the product should be designed in their eyes and they can force their vision down the throats of the consumers. This emphasis on being purely product driven is not necessarily the right approach; you should take into account the things that the consumers want.
Having said that, you should not rely entirely on the desires of the market. You need to have integrity in your research and development team to come up with their own unique and innovative solutions to problems. Using a technique known as disruptive innovation, you can dictate how the market will work in your favor if you are able to guide them on your path.
Apple designs Innovative Products for Consumers
For instance, consider Apple, a technology company widely regarded as being one of the most innovative companies out there. Why do you think that is so? It is because they changed the entire game by designing something that did not exist and that people did not necessarily know that they wanted. When Apple came out with the iPod in the early 2000s, CD players such as the Sony Walkman dominated the market. However, Apple counted on the evolution of digital media and its popularity over optical disks and designed a portable MP3 player that can house your entire music collection.
Many were skeptical of this device. People could not imagine having their entire music collection in the palm of their hands or tucked away in their pocket because people still had the mindset of owning a CD player. Apple showed the world that the future is in digital media and storage and having your entire collection on you at all times for your listening pleasure. Lo and behold, the Apple iPod soon became the world’s most popular digital music player and it ushered in many other innovative products from that company as well as their rivals.
They set the trend of innovation and they have been doing so for well over a decade now. This is an example of how Apple implemented a product driven business model that innovates products in their own way and envisages a world using their products in the way the company sees fit.
In addition, they did in fact incorporate some form of customer driven model in their innovation strategy. Do you think Steve Jobs and his creative team simply went to the drawing board and created something that only they perceived to be amazing and ingenious? Contrary to popular belief, they did rely on the customers’ desires when creating their products. They conducted thorough market research and investigated the problems that many consumers were facing when using the products that existed on the market.
When it came to challenging Microsoft Windows, they addressed those problems by injecting some of their ingenuity into their own operating system and designed an OS that catered to the more media conscious computer user. When phones were still called mobile phones and people wanted a more powerful handheld phone that resembled a computer, Apple came out with the innovative iPhone.
The iPhone was a smartphone that had a touch screen and had the power of a minicomputer inside it. People loved it because they wanted something that resembled a computer in their pocket. This is an example of a customer driven model implemented in a company’s innovation strategy.
Set Concrete Milestones
When creating an innovation strategy, you must have concrete milestones in place that mark the successful completion of an important task and the achievement of a vital objective. These milestones keep your company in check and in line as you are on your way to reaching your goal.
To reach every milestone, you need to have a clearly defined path. You do not want to be lost at sea while you are innovating; you need to know your destination relatively early on in the planning phase and setting appropriate milestones will help in that regard. Sometimes, companies become so fixated on the final target but they do not realize that you need to hit those smaller milestones along the way.
It is like a mountain climber attempting to climb Mount Everest. Before you get to the summit, you need to overcome the other hurdles of the smaller peaks along the way to reaching Everest. These are your milestones and they help you assess how well you are doing. Without milestones, you have no reference point for evaluation.
This is one of the prime reasons for having milestones in the first place – to evaluate your progress and compare your actual results versus your projected results. A key parameter that helps your organization know if things are going according to plan is to set the monetary budget and calculate the expenditure in the research and development. R&D is a very expensive part of innovation and if it is not done right, a lot of money can be spent on research that will ultimately result in a more expensive final product.
Many consumers are not willing to pay a hefty sum of money for something just because it is unique and the first of its kind. You have to ensure that you hit your milestones to ensure the successful completion of your project that will result in an innovative product that will sell.
The Failure of the Google Glass
Just a few years ago, Google pitched the idea that you can wear eyeglasses that will have a heads up display, providing wearers plenty of information about the world around them. If you wore these special eyeglasses, then you can see somebody and get information on them while you are talking with them. If you see an object on the street that caught your attention, you can search for it on Google and acquire more information on it. Google branded it as the Google Glass, a futuristic pair of spectacles that lets users interact with their surroundings.
Google had set milestones throughout their production process that let them hit certain goals along the manufacturing process of creating the final product. One of the early milestones was to create an ergonomic design that was as similar to that of a regular pair of spectacles. It had to be lightweight enough to wear comfortably while still incorporating the necessary electronic components, such as a camera, a highly advanced display made of materials that is not the same as normal glass lens, and a touchpad to access certain functionality.
To incorporate all of these features, the research and development team at Google worked extra hard to find creative ways of designing state-of-the-art technologies that could be integrated in the Google Glass. The major problem with all of these advanced technologies was cost; Google was going well out of its way to design novel technologies but did not check up on the cost of research.
In a short time, the cost of research started piling up and Google eventually had to announce that their Glass project would cost customers $1500, a very steep price for a product many were still unsure of owning. The price was very discouraging and a major deterrent to getting people onboard with the product. Moreover, as much as Google saw a future where everyone would be wearing these glasses, several government institutions had many issues with this technology at the time and were heavily against it.
Additionally, many other companies prohibited the use of the Google Glass in their offices after hearing about the features. The features and functionality of the Google Glass were perceived as an intrusion of privacy and it could lead to a form of cyber warfare that could potentially lead to something dangerous in the future.
These were legitimate issues and Google knew about all of these during their manufacturing phase. However, they did not bother trying to get clearance from security organizations and government establishments to legalize the product. They had clearly missed this milestone. They focused so much of their attention on the product itself that they forgot to or simply neglected to have the security clearance to actually launch this product on the market.
Any product released on the market has to be approved by several authorities for security concerns. Google did not have this milestone in their innovation strategy and though the Glasswas eventually released, it did not resonate with the consumers. Customers knew that this product had many security issues and it was more of a gimmick rather than being productive.
Production on the Google Glass was eventually halted and is now back in the labs for refinement. Besides, Google is still working on getting proper security certificates for this product to instill trust in their consumers.
Have an Adaptable Model for Innovation
Oftentimes, when people think of innovation strategies they think of fixed and rigid strategies that never change and must always be followed from its inception until its completion. Teams responsible for strategizing an organization’s product development endeavors typically brainstorm ideas and create a fixed timeline for their creation. They set deadlines for each of their milestones (we talked about this earlier) and expect to meet their requirements to successfully create an innovative. The problem with this mindset is that innovation is never rigid; innovation by its very nature is spontaneous and can happen from the most unexpected of places at times.
Think of Christopher Columbus embarking on a voyage to search for India but only to stumble upon the New World, also known as America. He had simply set out on his course and adjusted his sails according to the wind. Likewise, a company sets out on a mission with a particular intention mind. However, due to the fluctuating conditions of the business landscape, they will discover something else along the way that may be more interesting and lucrative.
Innovation strategies should be adaptable and flexible. Companies need to be open to new discoveries because they never really know what they could stumble upon in their research and development phase that will come in handy. Being capable of adapting to the moment will result in finding new things that you can use to your benefit. Do not be that company that stumbles across something that was unplanned and neglects it for the sole reason that it was a deviation from the plan. Understand this deviation or so called anomaly. Maybe it is something that is useful for your product development and is a unique selling point for your innovation strategy. It takes a lot of time to innovate.
You cannot be impatient when innovating; patience is truly a virtue and though we all want to stick to our deadlines and timeline projections, sometimes we have to give a bit of leeway to innovating. Sometimes you may not reach the initial target you set for yourself as a company but you may find another target that is more realistic for your organization’s resources. That new target may be your true calling.
Business are constantly changing and evolving. Your innovation strategy has to reflect that. Otherwise, you will always be emulating others and doing what you had initially thought of as an innovation. If there is one thing you take away from this, it is that innovation changes day to day.
Evaluate your Progress in Innovation
Since we are on the topic of having an innovation strategy that is not rigid but rather flexible, we should shed light on evaluating your company’s innovation. Earlier, we mentioned the importance of stating the main goals of your company’s innovation vision and creating milestones to track your progress.
Now that we also talked about being adaptable, you need to have a comprehensive benchmarking system in place that determines if you are on the right track to innovation. You can measure your performance and analyze the trends you observe from your research to find ways to improve the entire strategy.
If you do deviate from your original target, you should also compare it with the original goal and find out if it is worth going down that alternate route. Self-assessment of your innovation is very crucial.
Determine the Metrics to Measure
The most difficult aspect of evaluating your innovation progress and performance is determining which metrics to use for evaluation purposes. This is very difficult and many companies fail to identify the most importance metrics for their particular product development scheme. You need to truly understand the key components of your product, which can be more than just the value it gives to customers, and measure them.
A common metric to keep track of is the cost of production of your product. Keep records of the expenditure in all aspects of research and development as well as the revenues you project to earn when you sell it at your defined price point. Apart from cost, you should definitely assess the number of employees working on a given task and the time invested by each of them resulting in a useful output.
A metric to consider would be the number of ideas coming from your employees. If it is too low, you may need to create methods of fostering new ideas. These are just some of the metrics you should measure to keep track of the success of your company’s innovation strategy.
Have a Frame of Reference for Comparison
Whenever you are evaluating anything, you are always comparing it to something else that helps you gauge whether you are doing well. You need a reference point for your analysis. Without a form of comparison, all you have is plenty of data that does not help in evaluating your progress; you need to have a frame of reference to know if you are doing well.
The question is, “What are my reference points?” Well you have some options available and you have to choose which ones will be your references based on the type of industry you are involved in and the products you are developing.
For example, you could compare your innovation progress against those of your competitors, rivals, and other companies in your industry. To do this successfully, you need to perform a thorough, in-depth analysis of their research and see how your innovation stacks up against theirs. In this situation, a company such as Microsoft will compare its innovation with that of Sony when they are battling each other to try to manufacture the next best video games console. Microsoft did something very similar quite recently. Sony announced the PlayStation 4 Pro, an enhanced version of their very popular PlayStation 4. Microsoft was struggling to compete so they saw the specifications of the PS4 Pro and they used that as reference point in designing their new games console, the XBOX Scorpio.
If your company is very new to the scene, like a startup or a company looking to enter a particular market for the first time, then you may not have any direct competitors as of yet. In that case, you will need to compare your current project’s innovation strategy against the innovation strategies of your past projects. Compare your current performance with your previous performances and see how you are stacking up.
If you are lagging behind in some regards, locate the problem points and find methods of improving it. Your experiences and previous performances can be your barometer for your current performance and you should always strive to perform better now than you did before. That is how to innovate.
In case you cannot get our hands on the statistics of the performances of other companies or you do not have any experiences in product development, then you can resort to using industry standards as a point of reference. The best practices of the industry can be found anywhere online and you can use that as a starting point for assessing your own company’s progress in innovation.
Review your Evaluation System
Benchmarking the performance of your organization’s innovation initiatives is a key part of making improvements. It allows your organization to determine where it falls short against top performers and where it is leading the pack. However, how sure are you that your evaluation system is assessing your progress in the correct manner?
You need to inspect your own assessment methods to know that you are gauging yourself in the right way. We suggest holding review sessions with the leaders of the organization to get their feedback and perhaps point out how the methodology of checking can be improved. Moreover, present the data acquire from the assessments with the employees who are actually involved with ideation and innovation. Get their feedback and use this data to your advantage to help them improve and innovate even more.
Promote an Innovative Environment
Innovation starts from within. Sure, a company is creating an innovative product for the masses out there in the world, but the innovation takes place within the confines of a facility. We used the word “confines” to describe the grounds of the organization, but we did not say, “confined.”
This is a key difference to take note of. An innovative working environment is never confined but instead open and vast, with large rooms of employees being able to see each other instead of having cubicles with high walls inhibiting teamwork. Great minds like engineers, designers, and marketers come together in one place to work on designing and developing a unique solution to a problem that will click with consumers. The most innovative of companies have cross-functional teams consisting of a variety of team members across various departments collaborating on a single project.They should be able to work in an open environment that promotes communication and open thought.
Many tech companies in Silicon Valley started the movement of creating an environment that promotes innovation among the employees. In the late 20th century and early 21st century, with the rise of the Dot Com Bubble, many tech firms wanted to revolutionize the industry and create innovative products to capture the eyes and hearts of consumers. They soon realized that the best way to do this is to have a workspace that promotes creativity and we can firmly say that creativity is positively correlated to innovation.
Look at companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Squarespace. All of these tech companies have one thing in common – open working environments that promote communication and exchange of ideas across divisions. That is how you innovate. That is how you grow.
Office Designs and Activities
All of those companies are famous for having impeccable office designs, with open floors and plenty of windows to allow more lighting that is natural. Multiple reports and studies claim that employees are able to work more productively and with more creativity in offices that are brightly lit with a warmer color palette.
Traditional finance companies have very bland gray and white walls with workers segmented into cubicles. Hence, the financial industry does not have much innovation. However, technology and electronics firms are all about innovation and office designs have been known to promote that. Just look at the office designs of Google, Facebook, and Snapchat. They are truly sensational and very creative.
Besides, employee entertainment options get people thinking in untraditional scenarios. They get to move their bodies and recharge their brains after sitting for hours and hours, toiling at finding ingenious ideas for new products. Google has a ping-pong table in their office, Facebook as an air hockey table in their office, and LinkedIn has an open green space beside their building to let their employees roam around and contemplate.
All of these benefits or entertainment options really do motivate employees to continue working hard on their project. In many tech firms, having a 9-5 job is very rare; it is very common to work many extra hours, especially if you are in the R&D department, to find an innovative solution to a big problem that society is facing. When a company invests in the health and well-being of its employees, it can expect to observe higher productivity and more innovation from them. When top management invests in its employees, then the employees will always find unique ways to innovate.
Create a Working Culture to Innovate
A common trait that is present in all innovative firms all over the world is a strong and defined form of leadership that guides the entire team on a mission – to realize the vision of the organization. Earlier in the article, we talked about the importance of clearly defining your vision to understand where it is the company needs to go.
CEOs, project managers, and even team leaders at companies need to lead by example, restating the vision of the firm to the employees they are supervising to get them motivated to work harder and find innovative solutions. If leaders take the time to commit to hearing everything they hear from their team member, they can give honest, constructive criticism on the work done. They can also give feedback on the progress and give guidance on what could be done to perhaps improve it in some manner.
Employees feel valued and appreciated when top management is valuing their work. When employees work simply for the sake of working, they are not giving their entire heart in their job. In companies that are dying, such as Blackberry, employees have been known to not be appreciated by the firm. They simply go to work in the morning and work on something without giving their 100% before leaving the office in the evening.
The leaders at that company have not inspired their employees for years now and that explains why the company has not innovated ever since the early 2000s. And then Apple came along and killed the Blackberry. Apple’s leadership and working culture is a stark contrast to that of Blackberry. Lead by the genius Steve Jobs, the team created some of the best looking and most functional phones of its time.
Steve Jobs epitomizes the qualities of a great leader and visionary that concentrates most of their time and effort on innovation. When creating a culture of innovation, you must cultivate and foster employees to think beyond the horizon and imagine a world where things are radically different. Apple successfully did that under the guidance of Jobs and they are continuing to do that under the leadership of Tim Cook.
Simon Sinek, a popular author and public speaker on leadership and innovation, once stated, “You must begin with Why.” Here, the word Why is capitalized for a good reason – to emphasize the reasons for doing what you do. Too many companies focus too much attention on what they do and project that to the world on a consistent basis. While it is important to inform consumers of the things that you are doing, your employees need more than that bit of information. They need to be encouraged to find solutions to problems. Innovation is a constant process that should permeate throughout an entire company, from the top to the bottom.
When a firm like Apple decides to create something new, such as an iPad or a new model of the iPhone, they begin by asking their employees, “Why should we make something new for our customers?” and “Why should they buy our products?” By asking questions like this, they allow their workers to look within themselves to think critically about what they have made thus far and how they can build upon to make something new.
Moreover, they can even start from scratch and make something so innovative that did not even exist to date. By answering the question “Why?” you can expect to develop innovative products that are revolutionary. A company that has a working culture that values the reasons for creating can expect to find ways to innovate and push the envelope in some way.
Be Open to External Ideas
Many businesses, especially the longstanding and well-established ones, sometimes become set in their ways and get complacent in their innovation attempts as they become more and more successful. They start believing that the methods they have been implementing for several years can be repeated for the next few years and still bring them success. The problem with this very common and frequent mindset is that it is very inhibiting and does not promote any form of creativity.
In the previous point, we talked about establishing a working culture that promotes innovation. In this point, we want to focus on the external factors outside of a company’s direct control that can help improve innovation. Every company has their own innovation team that is responsible for brainstorming new ideas that they will pitch to upper management to get the green light for production. However, sometimes companies rely on external pools of talent to find innovation that may not be possible in house.
There are plenty of software and hardware firms organizing contests and hackathons all over the world. These events tend to be open to anybody who wants to apply their skills and get themselves noticed by tech firms. Many organizations decide to hold these contests to see some of the ideas a consumer may have. Employees work at a company so they have the viewpoint of an employee of a corporation but they are not always looking at the problem from the stance of a consumer.
Sometimes, you need to see how a talented consumer of your product will solve a major problem. This is how several companies tap into the talent of the masses and find innovative ideas from somebody in the customer base. Google and Facebook hold many contests that have a central theme typically based on a concept that the company is still working on. They want to see what they can learn from others who are not affiliated with their own company.
In fact, companies have hired many contestants and participants of these contests, hackathons, and workshops after they have successfully exhibited their own ingenious ideas at these events. Many organizations are impressed by what they see and want that to utilize that talent in their own offices. You can learn a lot from people who are not in your shoes. They can provide an external perspective that is very refreshing and even eye opening to the existing employees to help the organization innovate.
Form Alliances with other Companies
Many companies are usually good at one particular thing as they are involved in one industry. Toyota is an automobile manufacturer. Microsoft is a computer software company. Google is an internet company making online software. General Electric is a consumer electronic appliances manufacturer.
All of these companies are very big in their own regards, easily earning billions of dollars of revenue on a yearly basis. However, that did not stop them from deciding to branch out and diversify their operations. Once a company believes it has done all that it can on its own in their industry, they try to diversify their business operations to tackle the problems of other markets and enter those target markets. An easy way of doing this is to form partnerships with other companies in those industries. By interacting with companies, you can ignite new ideas from your combined experiences and know-how and then assess your business model to help motivate your company to work on a new project.
Partnerships promote a mutually beneficial relationship between two companies. Each company has their own unique traits and strengths. They can make up for their weaknesses by collaborating with another company that is experienced in the market you are attempting to enter. If you really think about it, it can easily result in a win-win situation for everybody involved.
You gain access to the resources available by another company andacquire insight and knowledge of things you were once completely unaware of. You could start by attempting to diversify your operations on your own and by means of trial and error, create innovative products for a market you are not experienced in. The problem is your lack of experience. Diving straight into a new industry is neither a smart nor a smart business decision.
Rather, form partnerships with other companies that also want something similar like you – the desire to enter a new market. The key here is finding a common ground of being mutually beneficial. When there is a common vision of solving a problem, then it is possible to find innovation with the help of another company. The partner company will also be able to innovate with your help. Again, a win-win situation for everybody involved.
Google is a world-renowned internet company famous for its search engine. In the mid 2000s, when Apple came onto the scene of smartphones with its iPhone and with its own mobile operating system of the iOS, Google wanted to challenge the market leader. They wanted to manufacture their own phones that ran on their own operating system. Soon enough, Google made Android, a mobile operating system that was a direct competitor to the iOS.
Since Google is a software firm by nature, they had this sector secured but they did not know much about the world of hardware, something that Apple was very familiar with. Apple had its iPhone so Google had to find an equivalent challenger to that. They came out with the Google Nexus, a line of smartphone devices that run on the Android operating system. However, they did not manufacture them.
Google partnered with other hardware tech manufacturing companies, such as HTC, Samsung, LG, and Huawei, to launch their phones onto the market. Those consumer electronics companies had the experience of making electronic devices so Google teamed up with them to make cutting edge smartphones that bore the Google Nexus name. Google was responsible for the design, development, support, and marketing of these devices.
The hardware manufacturers were completely in charge of the production processes. The likes of Samsung and LG had had the benefit of using the Android OS and entered the smartphone market with their own models. They never made their own software because Google provided all of the software support. Google never manufactured their own phones because their partners would always take care of that.
The first Google Nexus phone, the HTC Nexus One, was released in January 2010 and it had the Android OS. Over the next few years, other companies have reinvented and relaunched newer iterations of the Google Nexus. As of this writing, only two companies currently produce the Nexus – LG and Huawei with their LG Nexus 5X and Huawei Nexus 6P, respectively. Over the past 5 years, Google has become the market leader in the smartphone business when it comes to software and they got a footing in the hardware department.
They are still behind the likes of Apple, Samsung, and Sony, but they are catching up. Now that they have partnered with some of the biggest names in the industry and improved their finances, they are now manufacturing their own smartphones. In October 2016, Google formally announced that they will be manufacturing their own phones called the Google Pixel. It runs the Android OS and it is a direct competitor to the Apple iPhone. After years of accumulating market research from their collaborations, they are now taking the plunge of going on their own.
This exemplifies the major benefit in establishing alliances with other firms. You can learn so many things from other companies and apply your acquired knowledge in your own personal projects when you are ready to do something on your own. In this case, Google decided to go on their own with their newly launched Google Pixel. However, many companies do not do things on their own and remain in partnerships, always innovating together for decades on end.
Have a Human Touch in your Plan
When we talk about innovation, we mean products that have never been seen before and that are groundbreaking, using state-of-the-art technology. Innovative products are ahead of their times because they can predict where the market is going by investigating the current trends. Of course, you need to conduct plenty of market research to determine the problems that consumers are facing with the current technologies and products.
We already talked about being both product driven and customer driven in your business model as you are creating your vision for your innovation strategy. We would like to punctuate the importance of customers and their perception of your products that could ultimately determine how well your innovative products will be received.
Nearly 90% of consumers prefer to buy goods from a brand that is known to be innovative and thinking out of the box, always injecting creativity into their products. However, a vast majority of companies fails to meet customer expectations and their names have been lost in history. For every big tech firm that is as innovative as Apple, 50 other companies are nowhere near as popular.
Why? Because they fail to think of their customers, their needs and expectations from technology. We are not saying that you have to be more customer driven than product driven, buy you should at least perform thorough market research and truly understand the consumers. Studies have shown that customer intelligence helps shape product development and innovation decisions in the boardroom of companies.
Get in Touch with Opinion Leaders
If your company has been in business for quite some time, it is in the good graces with a select group of customers that are extremely loyal to your brand. They have been using your goods for years, even in the lowest moments of your company’s history. They like your company’s products and the core values your organization stand for.
These are your opinion leaders, a group of customers who are very loyal and can be very influential in convincing other people to buy your goods and get on board with your vision. The smartest innovative companies always find ways to maintain very strong relationships with their opinion leaders because they know that will be ones most impacted by a change in a product or an entirely novel product.
Opinion leaders are highly respected in their community because they are extremely knowledgeable in a particular field of technology. That knowledge translates to interest and passion; opinion leaders are those consumers who are highly concerned with where technology is heading and they can guide a company to create a product that will resonate with them. They can play a vital role in the innovation phase.
By targeting a niche segment of customers, you can tailor your production and innovation in a direction that caters to the needs of the customer. What is more important than actually caring about what the customers think? We would argue that there is nothing as important as what the consumers want. This is where design thinking is very important in a company’s innovation strategy. Companies like Apple, Nike, Philips, IBM, and General Electric are known for using design thinking as a means of innovating.
Tim Brown, the CEO of the Californian based design firm IDEO, first coined the term design thinking and he defines it as a human centered approach to innovation that integrates the needs of consumers and the requirements for the success of a business. Design thinking is important in the context of getting to know what opinion leaders want because it is all about providing solutions to the user. You are constantly getting in touch with them to identify the problems and coming up with unique solutions. That is an effective innovation strategy.
After conducting a detailed survey with these opinion leaders and asking them several questions, you can take the results and give them to the design team as well as the research and development team to come up with a prototype that addresses the main issues. After building a product of a product, your company can then take this prototype and show it to the opinion leaders to get their feedback.
Do not forget that you are using these opinion leaders as representatives of the larger market. They are reviewing your prototypes and their comments are indicative of the opinions of the larger majority. You should note down their opinions and go back to R&D to find ways to refine the product to improve them in some minor way. When the iterations of the prototype are well received by the opinion leaders, you know that you have something innovative on your hands and you can proceed to the final production.
The more innovative corporations are the ones that deeply engage with their customers and consider their feedback. Customer intelligence is very important in an innovation strategy to take advantage of it when innovating.
An innovation strategy is absolutely paramount for your company if you want to create innovative products in the tech sector. Companies are constantly evolving because they are pushing the envelope, thinking of creative ideas to implement in their product development phase. A clearly defined innovation strategy can make a world of difference in building a culture of innovation and free thought in your company. Consumers trust innovative companies more than other organizations that fail to do so.
Innovation means listening to your consumers and making products that they can benefit from. Innovation helps your brand image. Moreover, an effective innovation strategy keeps your company relevant.
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