“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”
Technology, ideas, tastes, fashions; wherever you look the pace of change is relentless and our demand for more is unceasing. For business this brings a stark choice; innovate or join the list of household names, which have been swept away by the tide. Make no mistake; the current sweeping 21st Century business into a secure future is that of innovation. Continuous innovation, innovation flow, disruptive or radical innovation; call it what you will but the pace of change is ever upwards and businesses which are not set up to adapt are set for a fall, or indeed, are already falling!
We can no longer take months or years in testing before bringing a product or service to market; we can no longer assume that because a product/service is popular now it will be as successful in the future. The choice is quite simple; build real innovation capability or fail. So says innovation expert, Cris Beswick. As one of the UK’s foremost thinkers on innovation, Cris is at the forefront of the strategic development of innovation from simple ideas to a culture, which infuses entire organisations. A strong advocate of the idea that 21st Century innovation should be geared towards providing exceptional customer experiences, Cris is uncompromising on challenging business to deliver competitive advantage through innovation.
According to Cris the challenge for leadership is to infuse innovation capability into the organisation in a way in which every strategic decision, every process, every thought is geared towards innovation and towards creating an exceptional level of customer service. But this requires a structured approach from initial evaluation through planning and training towards success. The first step is to ask if the leadership really understands where the business is now. What currently drives the organisation; what is its ethos, what are its values and how does the culture reflect internally and externally? It’s a bit like the man who was asked for directions and replied, ‘well if I were you I wouldn’t start from here’; if you don’t know where you are then you haven’t a hope of moving on.
So infusing innovation capability into an organisation starts with evaluation; evaluation of the now (something Cris calls ‘the position of truth’) and evaluation of the future. Why the future? Quite simply because until you have evaluated and defined expected levels of growth, differentiation and competitive advantage, you won’t be able to plan for a move towards innovation maturity. Understanding the gap between where you are now and where you want to be will define the innovation training, knowledge and capability, which need to be built into the organisation.
Evaluation may take time, it may mean asking some hard questions and it may mean receiving some uncomfortable answers. Only once this discovery phase has passed can an organisation truly set sail on the voyage towards innovation maturity. But there is one other factor, which will help the business to sink or swim in the innovation pond. That is the way in which employees embrace an innovation culture. And it won’t happen overnight. Innovation capability means working together, it means cross-fertilisation of ideas, it means changing thought processes from hidebound rules, hierarchies and ‘making it easy for me’ and into flexibility and creating differentiated experiences.
It is these differentiated experiences, which will help a business to sink or swim. In a world in which ever business can access the same technology, in a time in which product differences can come down to the position of a button or colour choice; customers will increasingly make their choice based on the way a brands culture is geared to produce great experiences for them. And to produce those experiences requires the input of everyone in the organisation from customer facing employees to those in departments such as IT or accounts who never come into contact with clients. But even there, the input, the processes, the back up, which they provide, can have a profound effect on customer experience. As Cris says, innovation is for all or it isn’t innovation, just a few ideas being kicked around.
Evaluating, training, coaching, changing processes; does it all seem too much? If it does then you can expect your business voyage to be bound in the shallows and in miseries; whilst others sail past, buoyed up on a tide of innovation and differentiated customer experiences.
Everyone says they want or need to drive innovation but few actually do. If you want to be one of the few and you’ve got a question, ask Cris on email@example.com or visit www.crisbeswick.com for more information.
Cris Beswick is an author, speaker and strategic advisor on innovation. After over a decade as a successful entrepreneur he is now one of the UK’s foremost thinkers on innovation and has worked with and advised some of the world’s leading businesses.
Cris also sits on innovation think tanks for both public and private sector organisations and is an executive faculty member at Henley Business School and the Centre for Competitive Creative Design at Cranfield University.
He is the founder & CEO of Innovation Consultancy Let’s Think Beyond and author of the book ‘The Road to Innovation’, has featured numerous times on BBC radio, appeared on TV and has authored articles for The Times, Financial Times, The Independent, CEO Magazine, Director Magazine, HR Magazine and The Sunday Telegraph to name but a few.