To succeed, innovation needs to be more than a nebulous desire to foster creativity in an organisation. It needs to be a concrete business process driven from the top. Roger La Salle explains.
It’s probably only in the last forty years that creativity started to gain momentum as a formal business tool that could perhaps be used to enhance the flow of new business insights.
Creativity in itself is a generic term. Its use seems to be more in reference to the cerebral processes and many teachers in the craft refer to left brain, right brain, free-flowing thoughts and letting your mind drift to allow hitherto inhibited thoughts to escape to the conscious mind where they can be captured, explored and potentially exploited. Indeed, I recall one recent conference where a presenter gave everybody a balloon to inflate, then on command asked that they be released to “freely fly around the room”.
Wow, what creativity did that inspire?
None. Just some light entertainment and more work for the cleaners.
In my view, for business, this type of thing is complete nonsense. It may be fun and it may be nice, soft, “touchy-feely stuff”, but let’s keep that for the next séance or the arts.
Businesses require a high degree of certainty and processes in their development plans.
Can you imagine an Annual Report stating words to the effect that:
“We are engaging the services of somebody to assist us in creativity and hope this may enhance our next year’s balance sheet…”
There are two words in the above sentence that should never appear in an Annual Report:
- Creativity. I do not want abstraction — what I want is certainty.
- Hope. One prays for hope. In business we want assurances; some certainty based on practical plans.
Only in the last fifteen years has the term innovation been seriously embraced, with innovation initiatives now forming the cornerstone of business growth in many sectors worldwide.
The significant difference between creativity and innovation is that the latter is much more targeted. My definition of innovation is, “Change that adds value.”
Thus, innovation is much more likely to produce tangible results as it ideally requires a sound starting point and some measure of the value delivered.
Return on Investment is the aim
In the past, many companies have embraced innovation initiatives, only to discard them soon after. Why?
There can be only one answer, simply because the innovation initiative failed to deliver tangible outcomes and an appropriate return on the company’s investment dollar.
Innovation needs to be driven from the top. It needs to be implemented with system and rigour and, just as importantly, measured with real metrics. Indeed, one of the major Asian banks has a mandate from its CEO, on all its departmental managers, that 15 percent of each successive year’s income shall be derived from innovated products and processes.
With such a strong mandate and metric, and a CEO so committed, it is little wonder that this company has a thriving innovation department that survives and prospers on what it delivers — real revenue outcomes.
Opportunity — the next wave
In addition to innovation, a new wave is starting to build, that of opportunity capture and the systematic search for opportunities.
In this domain, I define opportunity as: “An observed fortunate set of circumstances.”
You can teach your people to become opportunists; teach the important things to observe and move your people from being mere operators to opportunists.
There is little doubt the wave of opportunity is gathering momentum.
The important questions
Whether you choose to drive your business through innovation or opportunity capture, first there are four simple but essential questions that must be answered, each preferably in a single sentence:
- What are you trying to achieve?
- Where are you now?
- How will you measure progress?
- What outcome defines success?
Either way, in these fast moving times, any business that wishes to remain relevant and at the forefront of its specialty needs to embrace change. It needs to constantly re invent itself or stagnation and ultimate extinction will be the inevitable outcome.
Roger La Salle is the creator of the Matrix Thinking technique and is a prominent international speaker on innovation, opportunity and business development. He is the author of three books, Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies both in Australia and overseas.
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