I am often asked what innovation is. Is it a new unique technology, a cool new product, does innovation mean coming up with the next iPhone or medical device, can I innovate if my business is not a startup, tech company, or sexy new venture. The truth is innovation is not that complicated; in management innovation is the result of a process that brings various novel ideas in a way that has an impact in an organization, this can be a new idea or a more effective process. It can also be the application of new solutions to existing company needs; innovation is simply something that marks the company in a positive way, and as a result transfers into better solutions, services or efficiencies to your clients. That is why I always say every company can and must innovate.
Innovation is a catalyst for business growth, which is what makes it so important. Ford changed the way we produce by reorganizing the manufacturing chain and the internet changed the way we look at businesses geographies forever, but even small innovations like color coding have had a deep impact on our daily lives. We can’t grow without innovating, in biology evolution is innovation, and innovating is the way organizations and economies evolve.*1* Joseph Schumpeter argued that industries must incessantly revolutionize the economic structure from within, and that is exactly what business leaders and entrepreneurs do every time they come up with ways to improve customer satisfaction, reduce costs and times or better their relations with suppliers.*2*
The next question I’m asked is, what do I have to do to innovate. The answer is not as straight forward as for other business functions, but it is much more fun. To promote innovation leaders must be irreverent, question the way you do everything and the way your industry operates. Be inquisitive look at your competitors, other industries and even nature. Figure out what they do and how do they do it, sometimes innovation comes from crosspollination between industries or functions, one thing is for sure innovation will not come from doing the same that we have been doing, no change has ever developed by not challenging the way things are done. And don’t forget to look into what you are doing correctly today it is easier to innovate in areas that we excel at than those where we have problems.
Innovation can easily be linked to positive changes in organizations since it usually brings with it efficiency, increased productivity, better quality and in general increase value to our clients that will translate into more market share and loyalty. But none of this is possible if we don’t create an innovation culture in the company and put in place the structures and resources to implement innovation and make it part of employees tasks, be sure you are not only creating but nurturing an innovation environment in your organization. Your top executives and you have to break away from traditional ways of thinking and doing things and learn to use change to the advantage of the organization.
All organizations can and must evolve, innovation happens by many reasons sometimes is a result of a shift of the companies environment and its need to adapt, other is because of a new technology coming into play, some innovation is a result of a failure on our normal system and a quick fix brings innovation, sometimes with us even noticing it. But if we keep our eyes opened to find unserved needs, have the best people and technology in place and are willing to put in the right resources we will be innovation drivers in our companies and industries.
Innovation doesn’t happen by chance, innovation is a result of a disciplined company that is always looking for opportunities and has created the right team and environment for it, but most importantly innovation happens because we as leaders make sure that our organizations culture is aligned with it and we allocate the right resources for it to be possible. Forget about innovating for the future start innovating for the present, as with strategy the key is to think of what we are doing today and how can we do it better, how can we add more value to our clients and be more efficient, as we do this we need not to guess what the future will be like but how we can start building the future we want, it is way more fun this way. *1* Be bold and let your imagination run wild because the only limits are the ones that we set upon ourselves and our organizations, there is nothing to wild or to crazy and we must not limit ourselves because the moment when we envision a crazy new world and set our minds in making it a reality that is exactly when innovation seems to magically appear. *2*
Written by Iliya Zogovic, President & CEO ONEtoONE USA.
Every time I speak with a client or mentee for the first time, they start by explaining their strategy. More often than not I have to stop them and explain that what they are describing is not a strategy, but an elaborate fantasy they have created about what they want to do or dream to become, unfortunately that’s not a strategy. Once they get over the surprise, we work on understanding what they really do and the difference between this and what they want to do. When this is clear they can begin to understand the misalignments between the two, and start working on correcting them. As simple as that they have a real strategy.
If you are an entrepreneur or business owner with a clear objective and vision start by analyzing each and every area, team member, and the structure of your business: figure out which of them are not aligned with your main objective and vision, then start working to fix this. Our job as leaders, whether you are the CEO or head of a team, is to identify and correct strategic misalignments. We have to look for them in every functional area of the business, culture, structure, corporate values, compensation structures, business model, priorities, and operations to mention a few. Analyze each and every component of your business because they are all important, and are cornerstones of your strategy. A slight misalignment of one component can convert into a full shift of your strategy.
Once you understand your objective and vision focus your mind on what you are not going to do, this is as fundamental to your business strategy as what you do. It is crucial that while you work on your strategy you don’t forget to think of what you are not going to do. If you think this way from the beginning you will have a strong growth path, while keeping centered on your vision and strategy. Knowing what we don’t want to do will give us the discipline to say no to an “opportunity” that doesn’t align with our vision, before we end up drifting away from our vision in an ocean of opportunities like a loose buoy in open sea.
Companies have a gravitational tendency to mediocrity; those that succeed are the ones who manage to set themselves apart from the pack by focusing their strategy on a radical service differentiator, aligning their entire organization towards it. Everything that they do is focused on this objective: the people that they hire, the systems they create, the way they organize, their compensation structure, they are all aligned with this differentiator. This makes it easy to develop a strategy and stay focused on what will make us most successful.
Developing a strategy sounds really complicated, but the truth is if you want to develop a successful one, you have to make it as simple as possible. Focus on a concept that you dominate and are the best at in the market, make sure you differentiate yourself from the rest, and if possible that no one else does, but at least make sure no one does it exactly the same, or as good as you do. *1* The best things are usually the simplest ones, as da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate Sophistication,” your strategic statement should be reduced to one simple sentence that states the genetic code and competitive advantage that makes you unique. *2* If done right, this strategy statement will be clear, concise, and memorable.
Once the strategy and strategy statement is in place is time to communicate your strategy and execute. Make sure that everything you do as a leader is aligned with your strategy, because if you act erratically and make decisions that are not aligned with your strategy you will send mixed signals to your team, which will negatively affect your image, your strategy, and ultimately your business. Make sure that everything you do is coherent with your strategy, and that you are crystal clear when you communicate it. Just like in our personal lives, our true challenge is to reduce the gap between what we say we are going to do and what we actually do, because this translates to the difference between what we want to become and what we are at any given moment of our lives. Remember we are not what we do once but what we constantly do, and usually how we do one thing is how we do everything.
Written by Iliya Zogovic, President & CEO ONEtoONE USA.