Many would agree that the word innovation has been grossly overused, misused, and abused. Whether it’s brand innovation, technology innovation, disruptive innovation, or fostering innovation — all terms that, when stripped down to their essence, don’t say much at all and tell us even less.
In this war of semantics, what gets lost is that innovation is, first and foremost, a way of thinking before it is ever a process or a shiny new product. “Successful innovation is a mindset before it’s a process or outcome,” writes Doug Sundheim in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post. “It’s characterized by a dogged determination to see the world through your customers’ eyes.”
Companies — most of them big multinational corporations — who are hyper-obsessed with the notion of “innovate or die” simply to meet shareholder demand tend to miss the mark. Successful innovation is an inherent company mindset, laser-focused on solving important customer problems – not company-centric goals – by using customer creativity as business inspiration.
How can brands grasp the power of creativity and ideas to create positive growth on companies’ bottom lines and in the lives of consumers themselves? In a recent Fast Company article, What Major Brands Really Think About Innovation, Promise Communispace’s Charlotte Burgess and Arun Malik interviewed and surveyed dozens of brand leaders from companies like Nike, eBay, Pret a Manger, IBM, and more to find out.
To start, innovation is not the sexy, cool, hip, glossy, mysterious next best thing cooked up by some nose-in-the-air, lone-wolf creative genius that so many think it to be. Yes, creativity does play a major role in getting an innovative idea going; however, if creativity alone was the terminus of innovation, then we’d likely not have much of what’s on this list.
For an innovation to succeed, brands must involve lots of people — from R&D to marketing to project management to C-level executives to customers — in a highly methodical and structured process. “You need the structure to go from a small and passionate team to showcasing [an idea] to the CTO,” says Jonathan Gabbai, Head of International Mobile Products for eBay.
Sometimes the best innovation isn’t the big breakthrough, it’s iterative. Like at Nike, whose Pegasus running shoe has been a top seller for over 30 years thanks in large part to 30 years of continuous tweaks and improvements in the shoe’s form and function. Or at IBM Europe, where innovation is about launching new or existing ideas within new contexts, and is kept separate from R&D-driven invention.
Innovation often happens when we take off the blinders and enter into collaborative partnerships with one another. “We see what we want to see,” says Antonio Hidalgo, head of strategy and innovation for Philips Consumer Lifestyle. “External voices combat this.”
Collaborative partnership helps keep cynicism and egos from internal stakeholders in check; those who claim to have “seen it all before” and therefore 86 a fantastic idea before it ever has a chance to develop. So, sometimes, admitting the Socratic paradox of I know that I know nothing can be your staunchest ally.
The beauty of collaboration — with the help of today’s technology — is that it really can happen anytime, anywhere. At companies like Nike and Pret a Manger, for example, internal, cross-departmental, cross-geographical team collaboration is encouraged (and rewarded) often. At other companies, some of the best ideas spring from partnership with other brands, agencies, and consumers themselves…who are often your richest source of creativity and, dare I say, innovation.
Image by Opensourceway via Flickr