While no one really questions whether innovation is a critical ingredient for success, the question of “how to innovate” tends to be a challenging one to answer.
The obvious place to turn is to look at high growth tech companies and try to replicate what they do. Unfortunately, this can lead to big purchases of colourful bean bags and table tennis tables, which is not the best way to drive innovation in a business.
In Australia, there are many organisations kicking innovation goals. Rather than polish up their foosball skills, they have leveraged off what has been scientifically proven to drive innovation and implemented that to a tee.
Here are several hacks from the big guys that you might want to try.
1. They put their money where their mouth is
Talk is cheap when it comes to innovation. It’s very easy to say that your business is “innovative”, but it’s another thing to commit time and money to driving innovation.
The most innovative companies take resourcing innovation seriously. Organisations such as Commonwealth Bank, Lendlease, Nestle and Blackmores (to name a few) all have what they call Innovation Champions. These are people who have received specialist innovation training and spend 10-20% of their time coaching and mentoring others in the company through their innovation process.
In addition, these organisations are providing micro-funding for innovation projects so that teams can easily run quick and lean experiments on potential innovations. For example, anyone within Commonwealth Bank can apply for micro-funding to run an experiment to test an idea that they have.
2. They get out of the building
One of ‘Lean Startup’ theorist Steve Blank’s most famous pieces of advice is to “get out of the building”. Indeed, many of us spend the majority of our time in the isolation of our offices. However, to truly get in touch with customers and their needs, we need to get out of the building and closer to where our customers are hanging out.
At healthy insurer Australian Unity, staff regularly get out of the building, spending time at branches observing and speaking to customers. Staff will watch customers and interact with them, trying to understand what frustrates them about health insurance and the service Australian Unity and its competitors deliver.
Think about where your customers are hanging out and block out time in your diary to go and spend some time with them. You’ll be well on the way to unlocking some big innovation opportunities.
3. They crush assumptions
The most innovative companies are constantly crushing assumptions. These might be small assumptions or big ones, and these assumptions might be real or perceived. But regardless, deliberately challenging the status quo is one of the most effective ways to improve your innovation efforts.
From an international perspective, Airbnb crushed the assumption that people wouldn’t feel safe staying at a complete stranger’s home. Slack crushed the assumption that people need email to communicate effectively at work. Locally, Blamey Saunders (in partnership with Planet Innovation) crushed the assumption that you need to visit an audiologist to get your hearing aid levels adjusted.
To start the process of assumption crushing, take a problem you are trying to solve. Next, set aside time to reflect on what are all the assumptions fencing in your thinking. Some examples of common assumptions are: “my budget to solve this problem is $X” or “I need to produce a solution in X weeks’ time” or “customers in my category have no brand loyalty”.
After developing a list — and it might contain anywhere between 10-40 assumptions — your next step is to crush those assumptions one by one. You can do this by asking: what if the opposite was true? For example, if your assumption is “my budget is $50,000”, crush this assumption by asking, “what if my budget was $1?” or “what if my budget was $1 million?”.
By posing such an absurd question, you effectively give your brain permission to wander in lots of other areas that assumptions were restricting it in going.