Why Innovation is a Big Deal

 
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Here’s what I know for sure. Change is constant. Businesses grow, or shrink. And we all evolve. So you have two choices: You can sit and watch the transformation happen, or you can be an active participant. Alan Kay said it well, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

I’ve always been fascinated by innovation. Consider Google, Netflix, Apple or taxi company Hailo and how each has revolutionized their respective industries. Do you ever wonder why Blockbuster didn’t invent Netflix? I do. I doubt that it’s because of a lack of ideas. But I’m certain that a number of businesses don’t fully comprehend that success today does not mean success tomorrow.

"The best ideas come from those closest to customers - executives are furthest away."

Innovative businesses are those nimble and courageous enough to drop old strategies and adopt new ones. There’s no question that innovation can be a real challenge, but without it you will be left behind. If you’re not coming up with the next big thing (or many small things), your competitors are, and faster than you can blink.

So how do you find the next big thing? You listen. You observe. You try. You fail. You adjust. You try again.

“To have a great idea, have a lot of them.” Thomas Edison was right. Ideas are everywhere, and you don’t have to look any further than your immediate stakeholders – your employees and your customers. Out of 10 ideas, whether gigantic or small, one may be key in either enhancing an existing product, transforming your business or potentially an industry.

Our employees at ING DIRECT share their ideas in an internal forum we call Orange Spark. It’s open for suggestions about products and processes, and employees vote on which ideas they think are of value. Orange Spark has been instrumental in idea generation and fine-tuning new products and services and how we do things.

Since simplifying banking for Canadians is our purpose at ING DIRECT, we take our customers’ feedback seriously – which is why we are the first company in Canada to offer customers the ability to deposit cheques using their iPhone from home! Our customers have shared the obstacles they experience in depositing cheques with us. So with the help of technology, Canadians will now be able to safely take a picture of their cheques using the Cheque-In feature on their iPhone app to make a deposit remotely.

Innovation is a big deal. Lately, it is even the currency for business success, particularly in the transformative world we live in today. If you’re not igniting the innovation spark in your organization, what’s the alternative? Do nothing? I think you know what happens to those businesses.

If there’s a magic formula that will produce breakthrough solutions, every employee in your organization should want to find it. But quite often, businesses get in their own way. Here are a few suggestions and tips for what you can do to cultivate a culture of innovation in your organization.

"Innovation is a big deal. Lately, it is even the currency for business success."

Remove the hierarchy obstacle. In other words, foster autonomy. The best ideas come from those closest to customers, and traditionally executives are furthest away. Let others hold the keys to decision-making and allow for cross-functional roles to ensure a well-rounded view of industry and customer needs.

Let mistakes happen. Be comfortable with the mistakes, because failure is an important lesson. It helps modify and adjust ideas and reassess objectives. But don’t fail too often because you risk losing your confidence. Simplify the strategy as much as possible. Involve more people early. Make incremental changes.

Allow time for adoption. Comfort around change is not expected. You may experience backlash, particularly if the innovation involves behaviour change, but human beings do adapt. In the words of Steve Jobs “People don't know what they want until you show it to them.”

Balance speed and thoughtfulness. Getting something done is good. Getting it done right is better. You shouldn’t need 18 months to execute a new strategy, but you do want to be mindful of making hasty decisions. Don’t let speed cost you a great idea. Fight for quality.

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