Innovative thinking key to media and marketing success18 August, 2016 / Articles
When it comes to innovation, it’s essential to define the problem you want to solve. This can be tough: you have to choose an area where your innovations will excel and define it with precision.
That’s easy, you might say – our company has an innovation department. Well, no – innovation departments tend to invent solutions to problems that don’t exist, because the managers running them get paid to invent, not define problems that need to be solved. They keep inventing and inventing, but very often there are no problems behind their solutions.
And that’s the thing, innovation is not invention. The former is a cultural mindset embedded in an organisation. The latter refers to a one-off event. Innovation is more difficult to achieve and sustain over time.
Steve Jobs was once asked about the magic formula behind Apple’s phenomenal ability to innovate. He replied: “It’s easy. We take a product that already exists and that we really hate – let’s say a phone – and we think about how to make something we can love.” Obviously Mr Jobs was not thinking about marginal improvements. He was thinking about total redesign, which is why his company surprised the world time and time again.
So how can your brand, agency or tech company create surprise? Here are some good ways to increase the chances of generating effective innovation:
- Look at the old stuff and apply modern thinking
A lot of innovations are right in front of our eyes, just waiting to be unearthed. They don’t require any new technology; they just require an application of what’s already widely available.
Nestlé did it when it commercialised instant coffee – then again when it launched Nespresso. Until then, the only way to have an espresso at home was to buy whole-bean coffee, grind it (or buy it ground), put it in the coffee maker, wait for the water to boil and brew the coffee. Now you just need to buy a Nespresso machine, order your favourite coffee variety in cartridges – and voilà: a custom espresso in 10 seconds.
- Use a “stage-gate” approach
This is a very useful way to put innovation into operation at your company. In its simpler form, stage-gate is a process that filters innovation and brings good ideas to life quickly and resourcefully. It’s another way to get disciplined about innovation.
First, you select a multidisciplinary team with explicit decision-making authority (which implies the right level of team member seniority). That team is responsible for defining the problems to be solved, gathering ideas from within the organisation, selecting the best ideas and assigning responsibilities within the organisation to move the ideas forward, as well as allocating the necessary resources to make them happen.
The team is also in charge of evaluating each idea’s progress and approving its further development in subsequent phases, from conception to prototype development to validation, testing and fine-tuning – and from there, to full production. These phases are the “stage-gates” and the team must decide whether a project can continue to the next phase/gate or not.
- Bust-up silos
It’s easier said than done, but organisational silos are probably the single biggest obstacle to effective innovation. Because powerful innovation requires breakthroughs in lots of different business areas, collaboration is key.
But innovation is often seen as a scary topic that spurs an instant rejection along the lines of: “If that project moves forward and is successful, will I lose my job?” A good way to break silos is to use the “stage-gate” approach (see above). In the end, though, nothing replaces a manager’s personal leadership when it comes to breaking down company silos.
- Calculate the financials of ideas early on
This is key to avoid wasting everybody’s time on bad ideas, but it also helps to push powerful ideas forward and prioritise them. At the end of the day, businesses exist to make money. Innovation is just a way to help make more money.
Don’t be afraid to develop assumptions when generating the financial scenarios, or (worse) fall back on the excuse that you don’t have all the data to make the financials. If you use realistic assumptions and your model doesn’t fly financially, move on to the next thing. Also, make sure you attach a probability factor of success to each project to weigh the net financial outcome. Risk factors should change as the project progresses.
- There’s always a better way
At times and in retrospect, a “better way” is surprisingly obvious. However, unless you instil a “better way” philosophy in your people, you will never move the needle. Innovation is about questioning conventions and finding a better way to deliver services or solve specific people’s needs. Unless you believe that there’s always a better way, innovation will not become a pivotal part of your business.