Expert Q&A: Innovation

Q. What does innovation actually mean, and is it attainable for SMEs?

A. “There are four types of innovation incremental, breakthrough products & technologies, new business models, and new ventures. However, everyone focuses on new groundbreaking innovations rather than incremental continues changes. There’s a misinterpretation that innovation has to be radical – therefore more prone to failure.

Yes, you will always get companies like Apple and Tesla, that will be on the apex of technology. However, SMEs should start by forcing on incremental innovations. Yes, have an innovation portfolio that incorporates all four types of innovation. However, piecemeal improvements will help you stay ahead of their competitors and keep you reverent to your customers. Reviewing and refining is more important than simply focusing on breakthrough innovation.” 

Q. Who should be driving innovation?

A. “Unlike Tesla or Apple most companies simply don’t have the resources to have a separate innovation department. Innovation has to start with the CEO, the CEO should be building an ecosystem of ideas and a culture of innovation. Reason being, innovation has to be inline with the companies overall strategy and that can only happen top down. This will help front, middle and back office complement one another to drive innovation and help lower the chance of failure. 

Three other unofficial roles who should help drive innovation ‘the creative genius’ who displays the technical and innovation skills, including empathy, observing, modelling, and rapid prototyping. An innovation manager, one can also be considered a facilitator, coach/mentor and who keeps the innovation effort moving forward from day to day. Thirdly the innovation leader, the senior leader’s responsibility to provide vision, a sense of urgency, resources, and policies that support and enable innovators.”

Q. What are the new technological trends, and why?

A. “Technology is moving at an incredible pace, the years to come will bring impressive technological breakthroughs with massive impact on our lives, markets and society. 

New technological innovation is taking many forms and we need to look out for artificial intelligence, natural user interfaces or voice-driven interactions, virtual reality, augmented reality, blockchain, robotics, analytics and visualisation. All of these are about to reshape this tech-driven world. 

Data is key and organisations are looking at how data applies across the business, front-end website all the way through to design, manufacturing, marketing, sales and analysing how the product is being used.”

“Think of innovation as anything that will get consumers spending — Preferably the kind of spending that involves your products & services.”

Q. What external forces drive innovation?

A. “Companies innovate for four main reasons; First is to keep up with new innovative upstarts and also current competitors. Companies need to innovate to make sure they don’t lose market share and gain a competitive advantage. 

Second, customers, for various reasons customer tastes and demands change. Innovation is a way of meeting the desire for new products/services, price points etcetera. All to keep your company relevant.

Thirdly, is related to technology that’s inherent to a product and/or service. If a company fails to follow technological developments and fails to innovate, the company will fail. 

Forth, innovation has become more strategic in the markets and ecosystems that a company operates in. Access to some markets might require innovation to meet the pitfalls of regulation or in engaging different competitors.”

Q. What’s the best way to innovate?

A. “Open innovation and collaboration is becoming more common. While companies should be careful about giving away secrets, it’s not uncommon for a company to collaborate with a university via a knowledge transfer partnership or with companies and customers in their supply chains.

Collaboration operates at the heart of innovation, and is vital for the success for the UK’s economy.”

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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