How much is your innovation spend? This is a question often asked by those who ‘don’t get it’. These are the people who do not understand the concept of innovation and what it can do for them.
There have been many reports, with many more still to come I expect, that analyse the spend of companies on R & D. This is not a direct spend on Innovation but is directly linked. A recent report showed that techMARK firms in the UK claimed to be spending as much as 0.4% of revenue on R & D whilst the average spend over industry sectors was no more than half this figure. The report also states that the spend on R & D is increasing by as much as 4% per year (source Cambridge Design Partnership http://cambridge-design.co.uk/news/patent-box-report).
These figures are very rough and ready but let us take an example of a reasonably sized company with a turnover of £50 milliion. 0.4% of this is £200,000. Your R & D lab would really like to get its hands on a sum like this but what if I suggested to you that ‘real’ innovation could have a much greater effect on the fortunes of your business and could actually cost less?
Read more Business Creativity and Innovation blog.
At this time of year I like to ponder the things that happen at Christmas and then find humorous ways of saying why they could not possibly happen. For example:
- Jingle Bells (and other assorted tunes) – too loud, causing environmental noise pollution and hearing damage
- Christmas dinner – responsible for obesity epidemic, only healthy eating lunches allowed
- Christmas presents – in order to hit recycling targets no wrapping paper is to be used
- Three wise men – how wise are they, set up league tables for comparison
- Santa’s Outfit – not suitable for visually impaired/colour blind people
- Gifts for baby Jesus – select alternative gifts as current ones are choking hazards
- Sleigh delivery – restrictions placed by RSPCA on reindeer speed due to potholes caused by government cutbacks
- Dining table – workstation assessments required due to incompatible dining chairs/table combinations
And there could be many more!
The point is that it is possible to raise objections, cancel events or avoid taking actions altogether by hiding behind ‘the givens’. Normally these are rules and regulations but sometimes these are just personal or organisational barriers that can be demolished if we have the will to.
So let’s turn this on its head. If we can find lots of reasons not to do something as big and fun as Christmas, just think what we could all do next year if we demolished all of the silly barriers or objections that stand in the way (or which we put in the way).
No matter your strategic objectives, market disruption is a brutal fact of life for many middle market companies. Everywhere are the corpses of once-triumphant corporate behemoths who have fallen victim to disruptive innovation. Rochester-based Kodak, once the world’s largest producers of film, decided not to pursue the market-revolutionizing digital camera while its competitors did. In the end, Kodak’s film business would be disrupted and the company would file for Bankruptcy. Having strategic objectives is fine, but be prepared for disruption — and try to lead it.
Middle market companies should be driving disruption. This is not limited to technological innovation, according to the pioneer of disruption theory, Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen. Disruption is about serving customer needs that are going unmet. For example, the growth of the Internet created new opportunities for people to use online search capability to collect information about local restaurants, auto repair shops, and an array of local service providers. Users benefited by avoiding the cumbersome, clunky Yellow Pages. But it wasn’t until San Francisco-based middle market company Yelp arrived in 2004 that all this information was made accessible on a single, easily searchable website. Yelp has rendered the Yellow Pages almost irrelevant by offering added-value information such as customer ratings to local, online directories.
Not just Creativity, Innovation too! Here are my top ten strategies for boosting creativity. This will help your business get along in challenging times.
- Knowledge is a key Innovation component. Use what you already have and try to learn from as many different sources as you can. Read things you might not normally read or do things that you might not normally do.
- Many of the rules of creativity touch on judging. Build up rather than say ‘yes but’ and try to see things through the eyes of others.
- Many business people only ‘see’ things that are written in documents. To get different views why not model in some way (play doh, Lego, rich pictures) or perform some sort of visualisation for which many scripts are available.
- Allow time for things to grow. When experimenting, keep going around the loop if no final decisions need to be made. Try also to take some time out to reflect on what you are doing or to let your creative ‘right brain’ continue to work.
- Use all of the methods at your disposal to see what is going on around you. This means your physical senses as well as any ‘information gatherers’ that you employ.
- Doing is better than thinking so do lots! If you are managing an innovation project get your hands dirty. Don’t be afraid to go off a a tangent if you feel like it. Innovation only fails if you do nothing.
- Save yourself time. Don’t wander all over your marketplace looking for niches, simply look at your competitors and look in the places that they are not.
- If you work in a company that deals with one or more strands of continuous innovation then ignore this suggestion! If you are involved in an innovation programme then beware of creating too many ideas! Once you have got as many as you need, stop generating ideas and get on with evaluating them and put them into action.
- Be careful of ‘givens’, the rules that everyone accepts as true for no good reason. Patterns are good though as they help us deal with lots of thoughts at once, stopping our heads from exploding.
- If you are stuck, try redefining or reframing your issue in some way. You might like to just look from a different perspective or maybe use metaphor
Where are the boundaries?
In business we often seem to be constrained by all sorts of things from statutory rules (red tape), availability of resources and even our own thinking. Sometimes we just make things far too complex. We all need a bit of boundary relaxation.
I remember a time when I was at school (quite a while ago now). I often ended up in detention after school. Often we sat staring at the wall waiting for detention to end. I used to take sweets from the jar in the head mistress’ office (but thats another story). Sometime we would, however, be left in the care of a teacher who tried to be too clever. One day we were asked to write an essay. ‘Can I write about a red London Bus?’ I asked. My friend has already been primed to ask about writing an essay all about a green London Bus. You can almost see what is coming can’t you? The teacher foolishly agreed.
My essay started a little like the following:
Once upon a time there was a red London Bus. The red London Bus had four wheels and an engine. Now this red London Bus with four wheels an engine and a poster on the side was travelling down the road ….
You can see how this would build into a story that would infuriate a teacher. Don’t forget there was a green version also!
How can we use this approach?
A pair of infuriating schoolboys had simplified the rules surrounding essay writing for that particular occasion. We had written essays that conformed to the requirements. We had relaxed the boundaries and made life simple. The teacher had made some assumptions, He had not tested the ‘givens’, the rules that normally apply in these cases. He could (should) have given us a topic, made us create an essay plan and stipulated the length of the essay.
This was a little like a business transaction in which one side tries to test and possibly manipulate the apparent constraints upon them whilst the other party makes assumptions that are based on previous experiences.
So next time you have a tricky business issue to solve, try seeing if there is any ‘wriggle room’, any way that some of the boundaries can be stretched or even removed. It is often worthwhile trying a little boundary relaxation.