I get asked a lot about innovation. When people are asking me about it they are usually asking in the context of technology innovation, but that is not what first comes first for me when thinking of innovation.
In thinking of true innovation in business I think of the times that I have been part of reimagining a way of serving the customer, reinventing new approaches to the conduct of business, or instilling new team practices. For sure many of these had a technology component, but it wasn’t the technology that came first. Rather, the technology was a tool to solve a business problem or to capture an opportunity we saw emerging.
These days I spend a lot of time discussing with people the use of emerging digital platforms in their business. Often the discussion begins with someone asking me about these emerging “platforms”: Cloud, Internet of Things, Location-Based Services, AI, Big Data, Social Media, Mobile Payments, Programmatic Marketing, Digital Analytics, Content Management Systems, the list goes on… and on…and on! But these platforms are not where you start if you want true innovation in your business.
If you want true innovation in your business you have to start with what I call a mindset that is “Open for Innovation”. This Open for Innovation mindset is a fundamental culture that you need throughout your business. From the front-line to the C-Suite your culture needs to encourage people to be always looking at the business from new angles, and constantly asking “how do we make this better”?
Once you have this mindset flourishing in your business, you will find that, rather than drowning in a sea of technology or innovation buzzwords, you will be able to see more clearly what your true business requirements are and make clearer requests of your product, IT and support teams to help you deliver innovation into action.
A key aspect of your leadership approach should be thinking through how you are creating this Open for Innovation mindset. And I think one of the best ways is through the questions you ask.
Here are some questions that you can regularly ask yourself, and your team. As you and your team get comfortable openly answering questions like these, I think you will find that creativity increases, and innovation breeds.
- Even if this aspect of our business is already perfect, how can we make it better?
- If you were starting a new business to compete with us, what would your strategy be?
- How would we do this differently if this was our one and only chance to Wow our customer, and our very survival depended on it?
- What is the number one thing our customers want from us that we don’t do? (and the only rule on this one is the answer is not allowed to be “lower prices”)
- What part of our business processes should we have stopped 5 years ago?
- What are the things our customers rate us worst on, and what would it take to fix it?
- What is the process in our company that frustrates our employees the most?
- If someone wanted to completely replace our core product or service, how would they do it?
- What skills, personalities or knowledge are missing on our team?
- Would you encourage your children to work at this company?
Try some of these out and listen carefully to the answers.. I think you’ll see some new angles on how you can apply innovation to make your business better. Let me know how it works for you.