Innovation is the buzzword of the moment. Everything is being described as innovative, from slot machines to car keys. But, what does innovation actually mean?
Just because something is sexy and new, doesn’t necessarily mean that it falls into the category of innovative. No, in order to be genuinely innovative, you have to make an impact on your business or your consumer – and you can’t make an impact without addressing a business or consumer need.
After all, you don’t buy an oven, then buy some food and then choose what to eat. You do the exact opposite. You think about what you want to eat, you buy the ingredients and then you put it in the oven, or the microwave or maybe it’s nice out and you fancy a barbecue. The problem isn’t the oven, the problem is that you’re hungry! There’s no point in innovating for innovation’s sake.
Before you can innovate, you have to seek out the areas of your business where innovation is actually needed. Is there a skills gap in your company? Is there a process that you can make more efficient? Where can you make cost-savings? Don’t rely on guesswork. Gather objective data-driven evidence. Auditing the key areas in your business, or within the market you are trying to enter, will allow you to detect the specific problems you can solve; the more specific a problem, the easier it is to focus in on and improve.
So, you’ve identified your key business needs, but how can you go about resolving them? Innovation, as an idea, cannot be an answer to this. Jumping to solutions that involve new technology is attractive, of course – it makes you feel ahead of the curve. But, too often new technologies are seen as a solution in their own right. The solution you’re looking for may not utilise an up and coming piece of tech, it may be much simpler than that. If you’re striving for ‘innovation’ then you may miss a cheaper, simpler solution that could be right under your nose the whole time. In their famous essay, “When simplicity is the solution”, Alan Seigel and Irene Etzkorn write “complexity is the coward’s way out… there is nothing simple about simplicity.”
Most innovative business solutions are just simple improvements that have been built upon incrementally over time. They may not seem particularly groundbreaking at the time. But if you consistently work to improve – not shooting for the stars, but working on the ground – after 5 years you can compare where you started, and where you are now, and you’ll probably see innovation.