Innovate? What for?

Innovation has long ceased to be a commitment to growth and has become almost an obligation to survive. Generating new resources from the springboard that new technologies draw from is already more of the present than of the future, whatever the field of application or the sector of implementation.

A concept, that of renewal, which is beginning to be inalienable in an ecosystem of maximum competitiveness which enters fully into the infinite range of possibilities offered by technological evolution.

Some technology experts even argue that artificial technology will be comparable to that in which humanity discovered fire. Not bad…

A Harvard Business School study points out five pitfalls to avoid in order to avoid misconceptions. Here is the article by Cyril Bouquet:

Innovation now affects all areas of the business. But how can it be promoted at all levels?

Formerly the domain of a department with clear attributions – the development of new products -, innovation is everywhere today. It no longer affects only products and services, but also processes, technologies, economic models, pricing policy, marketing, as well as performance management: the entire value chain in fact. However, developing a true culture of innovation in the business is not easy, especially if the ambition is to gain commercial gain. Sometimes the expected benefits do not materialize, and when innovations do happen, companies often complain about their lack of scale. My research with innovative teams and companies allowed me to learn lessons in innovation, and to realize that there were misconceptions.

Misconception # 1: You have to wait for the moment “eureka”. For many still, the emergence of innovative ideas in business arises from a sudden illumination, like Archimedes in his bathtub or Newton under his apple tree. In this perspective, it would be enough, to hatch new concepts, that companies build teams of brilliant and original individuals, immerse them in a stimulating environment and give them time and latitude.

Alas, the truth is much more down to earth. It is often said that innovation is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration, which is confirmed by my research and experiences at IMD. If we consider innovation as a chain of activities dependent on each other, from the ideation of new concepts to their commercial success, the stages of the process most prone to complications prove to be the last: those where the ideas are worked and developed in detail. Generating new ideas is not the main difficulty for companies, despite their obsession with giant brainstorms like hackathons or innovation sessions. The real problems often appear at the end of the chain, when it comes to evaluating, selecting and implementing promising ideas.

Developing major innovations requires hard work over several years, even decades. It took Nespresso 25 years to transform its revolutionary idea of ​​coffee capsules into a value proposition and a winning business model. Today, Google, IBM, and others are exploring and testing the potential of quantum computing very concretely, but it is likely that it will be many more years before these efforts lead to functional applications. It usually takes thirty years to innovate, says Greg Satell, a renowned innovation blogger and myth de-constructor. Unfortunately, many companies lack the continuity of leadership required for the long-term commitment required by innovation. This is why many projects are abandoned before they have had a real chance to prove their interest and their commercial potential.

Misconception # 2: Rewards are the best motivator. The main concern of many companies wishing to enhance their capacity for innovation is to know which compensation system to put in place. Known refrain: innovating requires an effort which adds to responsibilities already assumed and always involves an element of risk. Companies must therefore offer carrots if they want their employees to make this extra effort. Some grant a percentage of the financial benefits (from a reduction in costs or an increase in turnover) for the improvement ideas they retain. Leaders in favour of this reasoning often cite the example of venture capital, which enables entrepreneurs with good ideas and their investors to enrich themselves.

Some of the most renowned academics also subscribe to it. Michael Gibbs, professor of economics at the Chicago Booth School of Business, followed the evolution of 5,000 ideas from a listed IT services company. He highlighted a clear positive effect of financial incentives. Small rewards in the form of points to redeem for prizes, such as smartphones and gift vouchers, broadened the user base of the portal. The quality of ideas was also improved.

But today, most innovators believe these conclusions are just false leads. The most powerful motivational levers are “social”, like the recognition and status conferred on those who succeed, and “personal”, like the time people have to take care of their projects, even within the company, and the intrinsic pleasure that this type of work provides. Innovators often tell me that it is the innovation process itself, that is, the opportunity to discover new solutions, which in itself is a reward. The most important thing for employees is to be able to have an impact and gain recognition. Financial incentives play a secondary role at best. They can even be counterproductive and demotivating for those who feel they are rewarding wrong leads or bad behaviour.

Smart companies don’t need monetary rewards to drive innovation in their ranks. After having decided that it was time to reinvent itself, the stationer Stora Enso published on the group’s intranet a call for employees to join an internal change program called Pathbuilder, designed to “shake up old ways of doing things and find new and different solutions to satisfy customers, shareholders and employees”. Surprisingly, 250 employees from all departments responded. Innovating in itself is stimulating and the example of Stora Enso suggests that many people are ready to participate when given the opportunity, especially in companies that take the initiative to encourage, recognize and appreciate their efforts. of those who venture into the unknown.

Adobe offers a “Kickstart box” providing everything an employee needs to find new ideas, make prototypes and test them, including a credit card worth one thousand dollars, usable without expense reports. Ben & Jerry has created a “fragrance graveyard” to play down the fear and stigma associated with “failure”. The cemetery is a snap that trying new things that might not work is okay. In the same vein, the Indian giant Tata awards “Loudness of the Essay” prizes to teams that have not achieved the expected results but that have excelled in experimentation and learning.

Misconception # 3: Setting up an online forum is enough to create engagement. The corporate world understands the potential of collaborative innovation platforms to involve large numbers of people in the innovation process. Most of the companies we work with at IMD have developed some sort of online forum where employees can post their ideas, comment and develop other people’s innovations and evaluate proposals. For example, Cisco, a world leader in information technology, designed the “My Innovation” platform to recognize, encourage and applaud the innovations of its 74,000 full-time employees. The system has three key components:

• An Innovation Hub: a web portal that showcases innovation across the Cisco group;

• A “innovate everywhere” challenge: an annual competition which encourages employees to leave their comfort zone and collaborate with their colleagues in other areas in order to come up with ambitious ideas for the future;

• Educational support: a comprehensive course and coaching system to strengthen the entrepreneurial skills of group employees.

In three years since the platform was launched, 48% of the company’s employees (from across the board) have provided more than 3,000 breakthrough ideas to improve Cisco practices. Other companies I have worked with use the Slack or Workplace by Facebook social platforms to discuss their visions of the future and give their managers direct and quick feedback from employees as soon as new ideas emerge.

But where some companies have managed to lend credibility to their engagement on such platforms, many others struggle to maintain the initial momentum. The steps to instil an entrepreneurial spirit within the company must be carefully maintained and animated. In this respect human relations are essential. It is not enough to develop an online infrastructure for people to get there. The best innovation programs combine online forums, face-to-face workshops and adequate supports to promote trust and real discussions. Smart businesses combine multiple types of platforms, hardware and virtual, to create the momentum that will allow innovation to thrive in the long term.

Misconception # 4: Using open innovation has become essential. Open innovation is fashionable. Many companies are partnering with their suppliers, customers, academic partners and even their competitors to generate ideas that they would not have had internally. But open innovation also creates practical problems of trust and intellectual property. Often the return on investment is slow to materialize. Relying on external communities can be interesting, but it is not a question of neglecting human capital and the wealth of ideas also available internally. This is why better companies collect ideas both internally and beyond their natural borders.

Misconception # 5: Innovation involves maximum freedom and minimum framework. Many publications and specialized manuals emphasize that the best innovations come from the field. Leaders would be too far from reality to understand customer needs or have ideas in tune with them. The argument is convincing, but it is not supported by our investigations. Innovation depends on the interplay of instructions and autonomy, even in societies that pride themselves on their innovations in the field. Too many instructions and your business will look like an army; too much freedom and it will take on the appearance of a holiday village, not well suited to the work required by innovative activities. Smart companies practice framed freedom, that is, they define the framework in which the freedom of the troops can be expressed.

One thing is certain, and this is not a misconception, in terms of innovation, the magic formula does not exist. To encourage innovation within your company and your team, you will first need to find the right balance.

And you, what do you do to innovate in your company or project? Are you willing to wait in silence like banking or paper media until it disappears?

innovation girafe

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