What does innovation mean?
‘Innovation’ can seem like a slightly mystical term. People have different ideas around what it means. They argue over what defines innovation vs creativity. They question how to build innovative processes into their business. Is it something that can be measured? Or is it a completely subjective process, with no way to truly tell if progress has been made? Quantitive or qualitative? It’s a tricky one.
Creativity vs innovation
‘The main difference between creativity and innovation is the focus. Creativity is about unleashing the potential of the mind to conceive new ideas. Those concepts could manifest themselves in any number of ways, but most often, they become something we can see, hear, smell, touch, or taste. However, creative ideas can also be thought experiments within one person’s mind…
‘Innovation, on the other hand, is completely measurable. Innovation is about introducing change into relatively stable systems. It’s also concerned with the work required to make an idea viable. By identifying an unrecognized and unmet need, an organization can use innovation to apply its creative resources to design an appropriate solution and reap a return on its investment.’
Is innovation a popular trend for businesses in the UK?
- Expenditure on research and development (R&D) performed by UK businesses continued to grow, expanding by £1.2 billion to £22.2 billion in 2016, an increase of 5.6 percent.
- Motor vehicles and parts was the product group that had the largest growth in expenditure on R&D performed by UK businesses, of £562 million (20 percent).
- London had the largest growth in regional business R&D expenditure, increasing by £404 million (21.4 percent) to £2.3 billion in 2016.
- UK business R&D consisted of civil R&D of £20.7 billion (93 percent) and defence R&D of £1.6 billion (7 percent); civil and defence R&D expenditure grew by 5.7 percent and 5.1 percent respectively in 2016.
- In 2016, total business employment in R&D in the UK grew by 1.9 percent to 210,000 full-time equivalents (FTE).
This means innovation has to become a process within your business to ensure it is future-proof. Inspiration just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Is innovation a source of revenue?
The thing about innovative thinking is that it is hard to measure, yet it can impact every aspect of your business. Products, services, IT, customer relations, sales, operations, project management, company culture – the ways to take action are numerous. One small change can have a massive impact on the bottom line.
Statistics from Europe illustrate that this is a primary area of focus for the next few years:
‘Innovation forms part of the Europe 2020 strategy due to its role in creating job opportunities, increasing the competitiveness of enterprises in global markets, improving the quality of life and contributing to more sustainable economic growth. Indeed, EU policies often focus on encouraging and stimulating innovation.’
The area that has seen fastest innovation is organisational innovation, this being a restructuring of approach within a business:
‘In the EU-28, more than one quarter (27.3 %) of all enterprises reported organisational innovation during the period 2012–2014. The second most common type of innovation concerned product innovation (innovation that encompasses new or significantly improved goods or services), which took place in 23.9 % of all enterprises, followed by marketing innovation (22.8 %) and process innovation(21.6 %). It is important to note that individual enterprises may have introduced more than one of these types of innovation.’
This is the one most of us think of when we talk about a business ‘innovating.’ A product can cover some sort of service as well as an item or items. It can be something that’s brand new, or even something that noticeably improves on what is already out there. Design, branding, user experience, price, technology, functionality, eco-friendliness: making strides in these areas will have your goods or services standing out from the crowd.
Clever advertising, personalisation, data-driven messaging: marketing is a constantly evolving beast. It has to be. The way people shop has changed, and the way people communicate has as well. Social media is a rising source of revenue precisely because brands are leveraging the fact that nearly half the planet is on one platform or another. Your product or process doesn’t have to be new or different, but change how people perceive it and you may find yourself innovating without making anything new.
To change a process is to innovate around the manufacturing and delivery side of your business. Things like robotic arms and automated check-outs are examples of process innovation. Maybe one day all deliveries will be by drone, who knows…
Culture in business matters. It can look different depending on the industry, the workspace, the country where the business is based – it depends on a lot of different factors. However, there are some universal truths about company culture, which are areas that can be the focus for your innovative thinking:
- Everyone wants to be motivated and fulfilled at work, no matter the type of work.
- People need to trust one another to work effectively together.
- Money matters, but people need more than money to be happy.
- Every business says they offer great customer service. It can always be better.
A fantastic way to start your journey of innovation is to break down your business into different components and think about what little changes could be made to build a foundation for those bold, life-changing decisions that could send you skyrocketing to the top. Make connections. Get your people invested.
What are some innovation mistakes?
Professor and author, John Bessant, answers this by saying:
‘The most common is putting everything into an idea and never getting actual innovation. Businesses need to have some kind of process for translating those ideas into something that creates value.
‘They also fall prey to becoming insular by not exploring all the possible spaces open for innovation. They will only focus on improving their products, for example, when they could also be innovating their processes at the same time.’
Here’s our list of common mistakes:
- Not following through and ‘creating value’, as Bessant says.
- Thinking of loads of ideas but not taking the next step to refine ideas.
- Thinking of innovation as a tech thing, or a product thing. Innovation can be about all sorts of facets of business, which all need to be examined.
- Being too eager to jump on the latest idea without giving time to work that is already in progress. Just because it’s new and exciting, it doesn’t mean it’s a better idea.
- Not listening to every member of your team – even the interns. They can have brilliant ideas, too.
- Choosing being ‘nice’ over picking the right idea. You’ve heard the phrase ‘designed by committee’, right?
- Not seeing innovation as an opportunity, rather than as an expense, or a disruption.
Adapt, grow, improve. Make the most of innovation.
- Thinking innovation is either too risky or too expensive. People think not innovating is a passive action that is low-risk, but by not innovating you put a ‘best before’ date on your business.
- Leaving innovation to ‘later, when it’s convenient’ or ‘when we have more budget’. Like having kids, it’s never the right time. You just have to go for it.
- They think ‘my business isn’t some tech startup, innovation isn’t part of what my industry does.’ You might be manufacturing steel sheeting, but why not revolutionise your company culture, or your marketing? There’s a world out there that’s worth exploring.
- People put too much stock in seeing an immediate ROI. Sometimes, benefits from innovation will only reveal themselves over time. Have patience.
What are customer expectations?
These days, consumers expect brands to innovate. It’s as simple as that. But, they do have concerns about companies not taking into consideration certain key factors, especially when it comes to product or policy innovation. Concerns around privacy and safety are increasing as more and more data is gathered and shared around the world. We interact with devices on a daily basis, and the rapidly changing face of technology can sometimes mean laws that are meant to protect are misused or simply left in the dust.
However, according to a study reported on in Forbes, ‘nine in 10 agree that brand innovation needs to impact society, with 69 percent agreeing that it should improve society.’
So, think about how you can make a difference to society, don’t just think about growing your business. Be refocusing your efforts around this goal, you are taking the first step to creating change that people care about. Customers care about why you do something, not what you do or how you do it.
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Who has the edge on innovation?
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) lists the world’s most innovative companies in 2018 here. What this tells us? Well it’s all the big names you’d expect:
You’ll notice a lot of technology companies, or companies that use technology to deliver their services. These are the people who were once at the edge of their industries. But, everybody likes an underdog with something new to offer, and these companies are now main players. That’s the power of innovation.
That being said, you don’t have to turn to the latest technology to be innovative. Sometimes a simple change can have a big impact. Don’t reinvent the wheel, but maybe change the make of car, or the road, or the engine, or the fuel. Keep what works, improve some areas, throw out what doesn’t work (or what will become outdated).
How do agile processes and digital transformation factor in?
We’ve said already that tech companies are perceived as being at the forefront of innovation. With new technology comes new opportunities, but these have to be taken advantage of in a timely way, because this train isn’t stopping at the stations for long.
Agile is a way of working that has come out of a desire for faster, more flexible innovations. It’s about taking experts from different departments – and sometimes third party organisations – and bringing them together to ideate, plan, prototype and test innovations that will bring in new streams of revenue, or will shape the business in the future.
Digital transformation is the holistic side of using technology to drive change in a business. It goes beyond putting backup on the cloud or getting everyone Office 365. It starts with culture. People need to be excited about new ways of working before CEOs impose new tech. Otherwise, there will be frustration, alienation and resentment.
Innovation is about working together to embrace and create change in business. So, design the work around the people.
What is the process of innovative thinking?
The process of innovative thinking follows the methods in design thinking, but as applied to services and practices as well as products, and is mostly aimed at targeting business strategy development.
Design thinking, then, follows a similar process as product design with distinct stages that involve divergent and convergent thinking. Innovative thinking is the ability to see the bigger picture regarding your business, and building a path to the future. It’s not enough to follow, you have to find a way to be a leader in your industry. You don’t have to be the biggest or the boldest, but you do have to find ways to stand out. That means there is no rulebook, except the one you write yourself.
Innovative thinking has a massive variety of benefits. Here’s some of our favourites:
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- Enable your business to develop and grow in new ways
- Create intellectual property, knowledge or research to add value to your business
- Inspire staff and increase productivity and morale
- Reveal new connections and potential partnerships with other businesses
- Gain customers, increase profit, have an impact
- Innovating is an investment of time and money, but the results can be hard to measure
- The quality of outcomes is dependent on your skills and experience
- The market demand for innovation can fluctuate, so it can seem safer to prioritise consistency
- Ideas are nothing until they are implemented and/or trademarked
Design thinking and innovation
Design thinking isn’t just about making products. It can also be applied to any aspect of a business or organisation that requires innovation. It’s the process of taking an idea and researching and refining it, prototyping and testing. But, it’s also the process of creativity, made into a series of steps that leads to an outcome that is tangible and intended for use. It’s not art for art’s sake. It’s solving complex problems for clients using data and logic, as well as creativity.
Design thinking is left brain and right brain, working together.
How can Mindfulness Design help me be more innovative?
Innovation isn’t much more than a process of applied creativity. Most businesses have gone through this at some point or another, however it isn’t always easy sailing. This is where we come in. To create is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration, as they say.
Here at Mindfulness Design, we have tried-and-tested processes to boost your capacity for innovation. Our techniques are unique and are based in the practical applications of divergent thinking and phenomenological (say that three times fast) design methodologies.
With our services we want you to be able to innovate, and to maintain that momentum for the future. That’s why our workshops include digital copies of custom tools that you can keep and use again and again.