Growth

Why innovation needs to be more than just a buzzword

Kate Eriksson /

Increasingly, we’re seeing more businesses and organisations of all sizes value the importance of innovation.

Whether the signs of this manifest themselves in specific initiatives or general aspirations, businesses are aspiring to think differently in everything they do.

Is everything ‘innovative’ now?

Innovation can be thought of in two ways. The first is a verb – the way we innovate as a process. The other is an outcome – something new we bring to the market.

For any business, both how we innovate, a level of fitness for ongoing new thinking and responsiveness to constant change and opportunity, and what we innovate in terms of results, is equally important.

At one level there is the rigor, structure, commercial constructs, share options and large corporate venture funds and small business grants that have become frequent news. Building on that, a trend we’ve seen gaining momentum recently is the desire to move beyond niche innovation programs and transform the fundamental DNA of how we all think. This is true in large corporate and government organisations, and equally in small businesses where there were never the investments in innovation infrastructure, only ever the value of individuals making a difference in business. 

This is not the answer to structural change and enablers that drive innovation, more as a fundamental level, what can we in small business or enterprise consider when thinking through new problems and opportunities to innovate.

 

READ MORE: How do you  measure the real value of innovation?

 

Balance art and science – answers can come from unusual places

Steve Jobs famously said he always thought of himself more as a humanities person than technology. Einstein would play the violin whenever he was trying to work through a challenge, and Voltaire struggled between his fame as a playwright and scientist. Isaac Newton is described equally as a physicist, alchemist and mathematician as he is also an astronomer, philosopher and theologian.

My own experience is that combined with commercial acumen and discipline on any innovation brief, the best of innovations and discoveries will come – even when under pressure – from deliberately seeking an observation or experience from wherever it seems most irrelevant to go. It’s also why we need and benefit so significantly from diversity of thought in a business environment.

Extrapolate and reflect – how the next few years are likely to play out

A simple though effective technique for removing barriers to change and innovation is to think about how your business environment or an aspect of it looks in 2-3 years for a small business, or further out for a corporate or government leader. Even for small businesses with limited resources to spend on the near term future, the opportunity to head toward growth areas sooner may be the difference between Australia leading the region or following.

When we understand what WILL with some certainty become the truth, then it’s a matter of WHEN to address the trend and innovate ahead for the new reality. Before that, it’s IF, and ‘if’ sounds optional, and risky and not for today.

Expect innovation from yourself

A third suggestion for innovating particularly in small business, though relevant to an extent in enterprise is simple – expect it of yourself. In small business we often perceive we innovate for necessity, without thinking of ourselves as innovators by choice. In large corporates, we perceive every reason we’re not free to innovate. 

Today, go to work assuming you are the most innovative person in the country. Watch your customers and notice their unmet needs. Try something different to experiment what happens. Make a suggestion no one would expect from you. Look for signs or data that gives feedback to validate it. The fitness gained from having an innovator’s perspective, coming up with new thoughts and creating options, is the same fitness gained from actually being innovative.

 

READ MORE: Aussie executives believe SMEs are driving innovation, but businesses still struggle to convert ideas into action

 

When we assume we are constrained, we are. For sure this will sometimes be the answer, but not all the time. The ambition is relative. We have a greater chance of achieving highest expectations and performance if we aim sky high – even if we fall a bit short, than if we aim low. 

So, in terms of thinking, look for ideas and insight everywhere, think big in where the future will be and start out towards it, and expect it of yourself. Having a mission that matters, combined with these, is a step toward all of us contributing to an Australia that innovates.

Kate Eriksson is the head of innovation at PwC Australia’s Digital Change services. A stalwart of the digital industry, Kate’s experience and network spans across some of the most iconic digital businesses in the world such as Google, Facebook, Skype and Twitter.

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