Innovation: The Life Blood Of Your Business

If you’re running or managing a business and want it to be around for a long time, you need to spend a good part of your time innovating. That’s because, in a fast-moving world, where people expect things to get better and better, and cheaper and cheaper, innovation is your route to getting ahead of your competition.

Here are 7 ways to put new life blood into your organization through innovation.

1. Create An Innovative Climate. Goran Ekvall of Lund University in Sweden has defined three conditions needed for a climate of innovation. They are: trust, dynamism, and humour. One of Ekvall’s case studies was a Swedish newspaper where the team working on the women’s section consistently outperformed all the other teams. The reason? Quite simply, this group trusted one another, had a high level of energy and shared a common sense of humour.

2. Develop Washing-Up Creativity. According to the Roffey Park Management Institute, most flashes of inspiration come to people when they are away from work and not forcing their conscious brains to find solutions to their problems. For some, ideas come while mowing the lawn or taking the dog for a walk or playing golf or waiting on a railway station. For Isaac Newton, it was an apple on the head while sitting in the garden. For Archimedes, it was in the bath. For others it’s while doing the dishes; that’s why Roffey Park calls these flashes of insight: “washing-up creativity”.

3. Make New Connections. Making new connections between existing features of your product or service is a popular way to innovate. Akio Morita, chairman of Sony, said that he invented the Walkman because he wanted to listen to music while walking between shots on his golf course. His team simply put together two seemingly incompatible products: a tape recorder and a transistor radio.

4. Find Out What People Need. Necessity is a great spur to innovation. Take, for example, writing paper. The Chinese had already made paper from rags around the year 100 BC but because there was no need for it, nothing came of it. When it did reach Europe in the Middle Ages when writing was all the rage, the supply of rags and worn-out fabric soon dried up. That’s when a French naturalist made the discovery that wasps made their nests by chewing wood into a mash that dried in thin layers. Within 100 years, all paper was made using the idea of wood pulp.

5. Test, Test, Test. Product testing is the way most inventors and organizations go about innovation. It may not be the quickest route to success, but it is often the surest. Jonas Salk, for example, discovered the polio vaccine by spending most of his time testing and testing and continually finding out what didn’t work. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the filament light bulb, recorded 1300 experiments that were complete failures. But he was able to keep going because, as he said, he knew 1300 ways that it wasn’t going to work.

6. Adopt and Adapt. One relatively easy approach to innovation is to notice how others deal with problems and then adapt their solutions to your own. It’s known as “adapt and adopt”. It’s what watchmakers Swatch did when they realized that the more reliable their watches became, the less people needed to replace them. Their solution? Borrow an idea from the world of fashion and collections by turning their watches into desirable fashion accessories. Now people buy Swatch watches not just to tell the time but because it’s cool to do so.

7. Take Lessons From Nature. If you really want to be inventive, you can’t beat nature. The world of nature gives us an endless supply of prototypes to use in our own world. Take Velcro, for example. Velcro was patented by Georges de Mestral in 1950 after he returned from a hunting trip covered in tiny burrs that had attached themselves to his clothing by tiny overlapping hooks. De Mestral quickly realized that here was an ideal technique to fasten material together. A whole new way of doing things was suddenly invented.

The history of the world is the history of innovation. Thomas Kuhn called each acceptance of a new innovation a “paradigm shift”. For once a new innovation becomes accepted, the world has changed for ever and can never go back to the way it was.

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