When historians look back at the first half of the 21st Century what will they see? Perhaps some may designate our time as the era of recession, whilst others may focus in on the Internet age or even the age of conformity but my bet is that the majority will recognise this time as the innovation age. Born out of the twin influencers of the internet and globalisation, the innovation age celebrates a time in which the only differentiator is in the way things are done and in which successful organisations are the ones which set innovation, building the right culture, and delivering exceptional customer experiences at their core.
Our grandparents experienced the industrial age in which the focus was on physical products and manufacturing. Our parents took this to the next level and created the information age in which technology enabled us to combine product and information to create services and systems. Now we in our turn are creating the next wave, building on the foundations of product and information, of services and systems to create something new; putting the customer at the heart of the business and using innovation to build exceptional organisations that deliver exceptional experiences.
But why should we bother to switch to an innovation culture? Why should we not sail serenely on our information ocean, creating products and advertising them to customers and expecting them to buy? Quite simply, that way may still work for a time, but when everyone can create the same products at the same price using the same technology sooner or later businesses which fail to create that added extra will find themselves facing extinction.
We’ve already seen the first movements away from pure information and towards innovation. An Institute of Customer Service survey in 2011 concluded, “81% of companies in the UK recognise that “understanding the viewpoint of the customer” will lead to improved performance. More recently a Harvard Business Review revealed that a study of thousands of companies showed that those businesses which put “better before cheaper” and “revenue before cost” were the companies which were generally recognised as being exceptional. The review commented that “great companies typically accept costs as the price of excellence; putting significant resources over long periods of time into creating non-price value and generating higher revenue.”
So what does the transition to the innovation age mean for businesses? Well it’s not rocket science but it does require an organisation-wide transformation lead strongly from the senior leadership team. It means setting innovation and the drive for excellence at the heart of the business with every process geared towards being exceptional and “what will make us unique?”. It means understanding what it is like to walk in the shoes of our customers, what drives them and what would truly make a difference to them. Innovation is driven by deep insight, by the drive to solve real problems and the will to create truly exceptional experiences.
But let’s be realistic. We can’t expect our organisations to transform overnight, to become instantly agile innovation powerhouses. On the other hand, innovation only attaches to the DNA of a business if the senior leadership team work to atomise it throughout the entire organisation. Innovation is not about sending a few people into a room and asking them to come up with ideas; it is about every person, every product and every process being geared towards enabling the right behaviour for ideas, solutions, new approaches and ultimately innovation to bubble to the surface. In effect, “innovation is a by-product of being exceptional”.
However, this transformation brings challenges, especially for senior leadership teams as business dictates that the day to day has to be managed smoothly whilst simultaneously looking at introducing flexibility, agility and empowerment in order to drive innovation, experiences and connections to the brand. And it means taking care to introduce innovation in the right order so that it is mapped, communicated and championed throughout the organisation. It’s not an easy challenge but for organisations who manage the transformation (and with apologies to the old Gang Show song) they’ll soon find themselves riding along on the crest of the innovation wave and the world will be theirs.
If driving innovation is a current strategic challenge get in touch and see how Cris can help you transform your organisation into an innovation leader.
About the Author: Cris Beswick is an author, speaker, thought leader 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 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 also the author of ‘The Road to Innovation’ a back-to-basics guide to building a culture of innovation.