Sowing the seeds: 4 steps to unlocking innovative thinking in your business

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There are very few business owners who don’t realise that innovation is more important today than it’s ever been. Technology means that everything is moving at unprecedented speeds, and the global access to vast resources of information that it provides means that knowledge is available to everyone, everywhere, at the click of a mouse. These factors mean that ideas can be copied and improved upon in the blink of an eye, and makes the focus on innovation in business even more vital if an organisation is to survive in a hyper-competitive market.

Businesses need to understand how to move quickly and build a culture of continuous innovation in their organisations. This is where the difficulty lies – in knowing how to do it, how to channel it, and how to keep it alive. If your company is serious about fostering a culture of innovation, and driving those ideas to a profitable completion, don’t forget to bear these four tips in mind:

Do your homework

Innovation very rarely comes into existence from nothing. Most innovation represents incremental improvement, rather than a complete revolution of ideas. Remember that business innovations don’t have to be earth-shattering. Smart, commercial and well-thought out innovation built on real insight, can be just as effective in driving improvement in products, processes and services. To achieve this, start with a simple question: What are we doing that can be improved to make it quicker, cheaper, or more valuable to our customer?
In determining an idea’s viability, research is key, and technology is your friend. Do your homework on current business trends in your industry. Solicit feedback from your customers and input from your staff. Soon, areas of your business that are ripe for innovation will start to become clear to you, and the ideas will begin to flow.

Make sure it benefits your end-user

When deciding on an innovative idea to accelerate into action, make sure that it is, first and foremost, in service of your customers. After all, they are the ones your business serves, and their satisfaction should remain uppermost in your organisation’s priorities if resources are to be dedicated to driving innovative change. Talking with your customers about their pain-points is a great way to form a frame of reference and determine what ideas are worth pursuing, and which should be scrapped. Remember that innovation by its very nature is forward thinking – it should be based on the future, rather than the present. So test your idea against your customers’ expectations. Take it beyond your typical, existing customer and bear in mind the customers you want to acquire in the future.

Get all hands on deck

Innovation in general is not the job of one individual or department. It should be an integral part of your organisational culture – after all, your competitors and industry are innovating all the time. Being innovative is not a rare skill – in fact it’s essential to human nature. A winning idea can come from anyone, at any level in the organisation, so it’s up to the company to nurture its people so that valuable ideas can be identified and used for the company’s benefit. While incentives and reward systems can work in generating out-of-the-box thinking, the business’s aim should be to foster a holistic culture that encourages innovation. So rather than making it part of a rewards system, aim to make it a part of your employees’ daily lives.

Act on ideas

So many companies claim to value innovation in their teams, but fail to act on the ideas that come from their employees. A business that is serious about giving these ideas the time and energy they need to stand a chance in the real world, needs to have a process for assessing, discussing, altering and implementing promising ideas that arise. If employees are tasked with driving innovation, they must be made to feel that their input is being seriously looked at by their superiors, rather than unceremoniously tossed aside without consideration. The flow of ideas is very likely to dry up if your employees feel their efforts are pointless.

In every industry, there are short-sighted businesses who are not willing to think big when it comes to innovating. To unlock innovation and make it a key part of your business strategy, you need to put a framework in place that will carry and nurture the ideas coming out of your company. If leadership gets this right, the business will almost deliver innovation on its own with minimal effort.

Reference: Piece by Pieter Scholtz, Co-Master Licensee for ActionCOACH in Southern Africa provided by Clockwork Media.

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