To drive innovation in an organization, it is imperative that employees and managers at the top level craft their personal vision statement. However, it is not enough to just have a vision; an organization must strive to realize the vision with sustainable implementation of strategies
Innovation is described as an invention with commercial value so true. Conversely, an innovation can be categorized as an invention, but an invention cannot be categorized as an innovation if it lacks commercial value. This point is well exemplified by ‘the easy seat’ – a bicycle seat − designed by renowned futurist, Joel Barker. As per Barker, ‘the easy seat’ is a lot better than a normal bicycle ‘saddle’. This is because the easy seat tends to be more comfortable and less painful to the riders, especially for those going on long rides. However, a gap remains in this invention – gap between invention of the easy seat and its productive utilization. While a great invention, the easy seat cannot be termed as an innovation due to its lack of commercialization. An invention can qualify for the innovative space only if it holds a good value in the market. An invention can be an innovation only when it is put to a productive use. Innovating From Different Angles While innovation is often associated with creative ideas, it can have different connotations. Some attributes of innovation are as follows:
•Innovation = Old ideas + small customization
•Innovation = Old ideas + new ideas
•Innovation = Ideas from nature (biomimickry)
•Innovation = Radical improvements
The above attributes can be shaped by two kinds of innovators – process innovators and product innovators.
The Process Innovators
The process innovators comprise practitioners, who keep striving for benchmarks within the framework of a process. For instance, a process innovator in a call centre will look for new ways and processes to improve his call resolution time (AHT – Average Handling Time) and will go after the industry benchmark or will try to improve his benchmark. Consequently, this will lead the innovator to discover ‘innovative’ tools − business process re-engineering, six sigma, Lean − to master the process. The challenge for the process innovators is not to match the benchmark or create a benchmark, but to look at innovative ways to get out of the process loop and create something new – a ‘differentiator’. Taking the example of AHT, a process innovator can achieve the benchmark value by reducing AHT without compromising on quality.
The Product Innovators
Product innovators are people who generally break the process barrier and create the ‘differentiator’. This concept can be better understood from an illustration of soft drink packaging given below:
Generally, product innovations are considered more effective as they add value to the system as a whole. Product innovation is the combined effect of process and product innovations that take organizations to the next level of growth.
Google is one such organization that has mastered the art of both process innovation and product innovation. Google started with process innovation when it streamlined its search engine features, and then it got into product innovations with Google earth, igoogle, Images, etc.
Cause and effect equation
Research shows that transformation as well as innovation in an organization is governed by a cause and effect (C&E) relationship. This relationship can be expressed in the following formula:
Y = f (x).
This formula states that Y is a function of x where,
x = independent variable Y = dependent variable
It means that ‘x’ is the input or one of the inputs and ‘Y’ is the output. In other words, the quality and quantity of the output will depend upon the quality and quantity of the given inputs.
Through the ‘innovation equation’, which is again a C&E equation, we look at those independent variables that lead to the dependent variable called innovation.
Innovation = f (vision, value index, implementation)
Simply put, innovation is a cumulative effect of vision, value index and implementation. Of these three inputs, the most important one is ‘vision’, without which the other inputs will not exist. Therefore, a person with a vision of becoming a differentiator will look at breaking the present paradigms of innovation.
In the process of breaking conventional barriers, the differentiator will explore ways to create the ‘value’ to support the implementation of his vision.
In order to decode the innovation equation, the inputs − vision, value index and implementation − have to be first taken into consideration.
Usually, change agents in organizations carry a vision. However, change agents should share this vision with the entire organization. Certain organizations have started aligning operational activities with organizational objectives with the help of balanced score cards, Hoshin Kanri (strategic management methodology), etc.
However, it is important for organizations to ensure that these tools are not restricted to operations, but are also implemented to embrace process and product innovations undertaken in the firm.
This can be described as a score of organizational process or product vis-à-vis the old process or product. With this index, an organization can determine whether it is providing the right value to its clients at the right price. A firm can derive the value index by following a set methodology. Value index calculation demands investment in terms of time. In this calculation, the firm has to verify the nature of its deliveries that can be captured by a need/want analysis. The inferences from the analysis can be compared with existing deliverable to determine the differentiator.
Value index enables an employee to program his success and create a positive stress to develop something that probably Has never been tried and tested. But at the same time, if it were introduced, it would put the current practices back to zero. For instance, today’s mobile phones are as good as carrying your office with you.
It is defined as the ‘realization of an application or execution of a plan’. Implementation is the mission that will lead to realization of vision. However, despite being integral to an organization’s vision, organizations fail to develop sustainable implementation strategies. In today’s scenario, implementation happens at much slower speeds than is expected.
Although many organizations encounter failure at the implementation level, failure is considered the first step of successful implementation.
Though it is challenging to put together vision, value and implementation, innovation is all about taking up the challenge.
Making Innovation Happen
To put it simply, innovation can happen through value creation. Creating value for the customer is the only ‘buzzword’ for a sustainable innovation. This value can be created in the following ways:
Think differently: Normally people would start thinking differently only when they are pushed to do so. Organizations should create a culture where employees would be driven by habit to think different and look at innovation differently.
‘Within-the-box’ ideas: It is a general tendency to look ‘outside-the-box’ while innovating. However, innovators often fail to use the resources available within-the- box for creating something new. Therefore, people should be trained on structured innovation and its tools. Having said that, it would be worth reiterating that tools are just ‘idea enablers’ and they force innovators to think differently.
Numerous research papers have been written on the sinking of Titanic, and a documented research reports that the ‘Titanic’ had enough resources like wooden parts, boxes which could have been used by its travelers to survive. It is only that people looked outside the ship for help and not inside the vessel.
A classic case of evolving innovation is the ‘mobile phone’. People who invented the computer did not invent the mobile phone. As stated earlier, product innovators are generally from a different fraternity and are not bound by laws of old school of thought. However, product innovation practitioners have little edge on the process innovators. This is because a new product will not survive, if it is not followed up by process innovation. On the other hand, process innovation practitioners will have to get into product innovation eventually, the sooner the better.
Therefore, in order to drive innovation completely, both product and process innovators will have to work together to give the consumers an innovative world. The bottom-line is that vision is not enough; it has to materialize into innovation to drive the growth of an organization.
Acknowledgement: The Industrial Source book