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Innovation acquisition - can business innovation be bought?

Nathanael Peacock
Technology Journalist

Nathanael Peacock is a tech, digital and entertainment writer

Nathanael Peacock
Technology Journalist

Nathanael Peacock is a tech, digital and entertainment writer

Every business aims to be “innovative”, but can true business innovation be successfully developed and packaged by leveraging people, processes and latest technologies?

What is business innovation? It’s a term we hear quite often, yet in many ways the concept is still misunderstood. Yes, innovation means coming up with new ideas and new ways of doing things, but its value runs much deeper. Business model innovation can also be about:

  • Rethinking processes
  •  Empowering people to be more effective 
  • Designing new products and services to meet changing market demands 
  • Embracing the latest digital technologies

While innovation looks different to each business, the ultimate goal tends to stay the same: enable the organisation to thrive in a rapidly evolving commercial world.

As the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science asserts, “Innovation can be a catalyst for the growth and success of your business, and help you to adapt and grow in the marketplace”.

Business innovation can often be synonymous with profit. If a product or service is truly innovative, there’s likely to be a market for it. Innovative business solutions are likely to be more efficient, freeing up time to let staff do their thing.

And so businesses large and small are looking at acquiring innovation without relying on just one or two innovative employees to drive positive change. Increasingly, these businesses are looking to build smarter and more effective operations using existing skill sets and structured ways of working. Moreover, innovative technology platforms based on the Internet of Things (IoT), AI-enabled solutions, machine learning, 3D printing and extended reality (XR) are set to power business innovation like never before.

Lightbulbs hang in front of a blue wall

Enhance process innovation using the right tools

One of the areas where businesses stand to benefit most is through process innovation. Implementing processes that encourage all ideas to reach their full potential will be much more effective than relying on inspiration to strike in formalised meetings or brainstorms.

For example, the free Kickbox program aims to provide this process in a project management tool designed to create ‘innovators, not innovations’. Adobe rolled out this system first internally, then open-sourced the innovation process model through their website. 

The innovation management process essentially boils down to empowering employees to come up with ideas. Their ideas then go through an internal rigour test before they go to people who make the final call on what innovative tech is used or implemented. Not all ideas are brilliant, but by knocking out the bad ones, and refining some others, you can discover the ideas likely to make a real difference.

Modern collaboration and project management tools like Trello, Slack and Microsoft® Project Online also have an important role to play in the quest for successful process innovation. When an organisation's internal communication systems are robust and reliable rather than cumbersome and confusing, every team member and department has an opportunity to make meaningful contributions. Eliminate the boundaries to conversations and collaborations. Bring your people and processes together. Do this and more innovative technology and services may very well rise from this foundation of shared thinking. 

THE LESSON

Give every idea the ability to prove itself. A strong idea can come from the most unlikely inspiration, so process, collaboration and discussion are important to finding new ways of working – and there are products on the market that can help you do it.

The right people

Facebook® is well known for adapting to the needs and wants of their users – a feat that’s cemented their position as the world’s more ubiquitous social network with 2.38 billion
monthly active users.

And innovation goes to the very heart of what they do – they’ve bought companies that can push boundaries and strive to make innovation. But it’s when it comes to the right employees, Facebook thinks outside of the traditional business hierarchy.  

Facebook's business culture tries to focus all of its assets on a problem when it arises, using senior members as designers and problem solvers. Senior members of staff are encouraged to be entrepreneurial thinkers, rather than just gate-keepers.

It’s a concept that should ring true for any business – senior members should be some of the most innovative and experienced members of the company, so it’s important to use those credentials to guide the future. 

Remember, work culture is a major ingredient of an innovative business. A flexible, motivated team not only takes an innovation project in the right direction, but also alters that direction in response to various internal and external factors. You can't get innovation right without being open to change, trying different things, measuring outcomes and making improvements as you go.

THE LESSON

You’re a leader of the business, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be rolling up your sleeves and getting involved with solving problems. Your expertise, knowledge and experience can help your teams’ ideas go from good to great.

Prioritise staff empowerment

Just over 20 years ago, Google® executive chairman, Eric Schmidt coined one of the most powerful staff empowerment stratefies - the 70/20/10 rule. He claimed that 70 per cent of time should be spent doing your job, 20 per cent of time should be spent doing things related to your job, and 10 per cent of time should be spent doing something unrelated to your job.

Of the last two, 20 per cent could mean learning new skills, or a new program, while 10 per cent could be learning what another department does or looking for new business. 

According to David Guerra, an evangelist at Google, some of the best ideas (such as Gmail®) have come from empowering staff in the workplace to make the most of their "10 per cent".

“Google” didn’t exist. Yet in two decades it’s become both a noun and verb with a lofty status in the international lexicon, while the company has tackled search engines, wearable technology, driverless cars, mapping and cloud storage (just to name a few).

THE LESSON

Your staff all have set responsibilities but when you empower your staff,  their interests can be just as valuable to business success. By giving people the freedom to think outside their job role, you can unlock new ways of thinking about old problems.

Looking at what the world’s most innovative companies are doing provides a starting point for a business to find its own inspiration and innovation. A common thread through most processes that promise innovation is that ideas need to be given a chance to survive before they can thrive, and an open mind can unearth ideas that make things faster, more profitable, easier or less wasteful.

Ultimately, business innovation must be owned and championed by every member of a company from management down to frontline staff. In many cases, the latter group is the one powering the biggest innovations to emerge. The idea is to build a work culture that encourages action around innovation so that the business is constantly evolving. This is how a modern business makes its mark in an increasingly competitive world. 

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