​​​​​Building a Culture of Innovation – Part 1: What’s Innovation Really About?

It’s a difficult task to pick up a business book and not find the word ‘innovation’ in its pages. This is of great benefit seeing that innovation is at the core of any business – it determines how a business delivers its promise to the customers and stand out from several competitors. Despite the degree of importance, several business leaders still struggle with innovation. Some find it hard to come up with new ideas while for others, their employees tend to resist the needed change and usually some find that innovation becomes more challenging when the stakes are high.

There’s a high possibility that the struggle many businesses have with innovation is because they think about it the wrong way. What they often fail to realise is that innovation is not a one-time event but rather, it’s closely related to the daily operation of the business. Inculcating innovation into the company culture will help business leaders succeed more at it.

So what is innovation?
My speech on the subject of innovation usually begin with a question; “what is innovation?” and the response is usually a deafening silence. This reveals that despite all the talk about innovation, many business leaders still cannot define it. The definition I like most goes like this;

Innovation is something that creates incremental value by providing a new or better solution to a customer’s problem.

Three essential parts to this definition that are worth paying attention to; “incremental value,” “solution” and “customer’s problem.”

Any change that does not provide value to or solve a customer’s problem is an invention rather than an innovation. When Albert Einstein developed his theory of relativity, because it didn’t create an incremental value, it was an invention rather than an innovation.

Many leaders have fallen into the trap of believing that innovation needs to be about technology but with the definition above in mind, you can avoid that.

Several examples of innovation exist that have very little or nothing to do with technology. A favourite is a shipping companies ‘no left-hand turns’ example. In 2004, a shipping and delivery company found out that they could enhance their business by simply avoiding left turns.

They eventually found out that during the period spent waiting to make a left turn, the engines used up a significant volume of gas and time. This single tweak led the company to

Saving up over 10 million gallons of fuel which amounts to about $29.7 million and reduced the carbon emission by around 100,000 metric tons which is like getting 5,300 cars off the road for one year and this was accomplished by an innovation that has very little to do with technology.

Pattern-optimizing innovation vs. pattern-breaking
Creating something new which meets the criteria of innovation is referred to as pattern-breaking innovation for example Facebook. This made social connections achievable in a way that was not previously conceived. Twitter, with its notion of using microblogs to share information, is another example of a pattern-breaking innovation.

On the other hand, Amazon is a great example of pattern-optimizing innovation because we ordered items using the mail long before Amazon. Notwithstanding, using Amazon allows us to place orders more efficiently.

There’s a high tendency for business leaders to undermine pattern optimising while seeking for pattern optimising ideas.

Disruptive innovation
In a time where one person with a laptop can change the word. The concept of “disruptive” innovation is becoming increasingly important to an individual and business. Disruptive innovation ideas create a new market and overtime displaces an existing one. An example of this, digital photography. Not only did it quickly replace most of the chemical and film developing business, but it also much of the camera business when the smartphone came along to take pictures and create videos.

Leading the way toward innovation requires you to initiate conversations about innovation and also remain mindful of the fact that the fear of change can hamper the creative process which leads towards innovation.

In my next blog, we’ll look at specific organisational behaviors that encourage having innovative cultures, way business leaders need to encourage those behaviors, and the challenges to overcome.

About the author:

A founder of multiple startups Hader Ali is an innovation & business consultant.

Hader Ali Consultancy works with startups, SMEs, and large organisations. Specialising in business strategy, product/service development, sales & marketing.

To future-proof your business. Hader Ali Consultancy will work with your company to create an innovation portfolio by providing a framework for structured innovation. All while creating an ecosystem of ideas and a culture of innovation.

Follow me on LinkedIn & Twitter @HaderA1i or get in touch for a free consultation.

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