October 4, 2018

Innovating innovation: Tapping into the ideas of tomorrow


By Connie Berry, Engagement Consultant

Innovation has never been more critical to a company’s survival. While employee-led initiatives help harness the power of people to unlock ideas, to stay ahead organisations should be looking outwards, too.   

Across sectors and industries, organisations are facing unparalleled competition. As new entrants challenge established market leaders and buying power shifts into the hands of the consumer, it’s no secret that companies must innovate to stay connected to their customers.

Innovation takes many shapes and forms – from cutting-edge inventions to streamlining processes. In the context of this article, innovation is broadly defined as the powerful combination of creativity and efficiency which helps businesses to generate new ideas, rethink ways of working and create new products.

To achieve this, many businesses are turning to their employees, drawing on their frontline experience and insights to find bigger and better ways to deliver value and drive growth. But only those with a true culture of innovation can reap the biggest rewards.

Getting the fundamentals right

To foster an innovative culture, companies have to lead with the right behaviours from the top. It’s not enough to talk about having an innovation strategy – leaders need to show how they are creating the time and space for it to become a reality. This means focusing their attention and investing resources in the right initiatives.

In so doing, leaders give permission – both implicitly and explicitly – for their teams to do the same. It makes innovation a priority for everyone, not just a designated team, and it opens a dialogue around how the individual can positively impact the future of the organisation.

In the past, internal innovation programmes have helped to further embed this, ranging from simple suggestion boxes, through to implementing idea generation platforms, ‘Shark Tank’-style competitions and global hackathons. These initiatives are vital to tapping into the collective knowledge and experience of an organisation. But in the new world of work, do they go far enough?

Thinking outside the box

By its very nature, innovation thrives on openness, collaboration and diversity of thought. So a company that limits its innovation to inward-thinking initiatives also limits how far it can go.

To truly harness the power of collective thought, businesses should start to look outside of their own organisation. Drawing on external viewpoints and looking at other industries at polar opposites of the spectrum serves to broaden the scope of opportunity and could be a catalyst for the next breakthrough idea.

Here are two trends businesses could consider introducing to help bring the outside in:

  • Customer-led innovation
    Thanks to the advent of social media, consumers have a powerful platform to help or hurt brands,. Now, more and more companies are using customer opinion to shape new solutions as part of an iterative, collaborative approach. Beyond social listening, which helps companies understand what consumers are saying about their brand, companies like Starbucks, Barclaycard and Lego are going one step further by challenging customers to co-create new products, services and experiences.
  • Open innovation
    Open innovation allows companies, individuals and public agencies to collaborate to create innovative products and services, while sharing the risks and rewards of the process. It works by leveraging external talent, expertise and systems to pool thinking and co-create new innovations which benefit both parties – and the end user. Companies such as NASA and GE Appliances (founders of co-creation community FirstBuild) are embracing this trend to effectively crowd source innovation. A report from Unilever Foundry also suggested that corporates are starting to build productive and collaborative relationships with their start-up counterparts.

Risk or reward?

For businesses, these trends help foster a true culture of innovation, where everyone is responsible and has permission to innovate. It’s about sharing costs and resources with others whilst benefiting from diversity of thought, by connecting with external partners and customers to identify pain points and deliver products or services that really work.

And for employees? They gain access to the latest industry-leading thinking and ideas; encouraging them to seek alternative viewpoints and giving them an opportunity to reflect on their internal opportunities to innovate. It’s an exciting prospect for all involved.

Find out how you can help to foster a culture of innovation at your organization by getting in touch with Connie.Berry@instinctif.com