The need for innovation in modern business has been well-documented. Most organisations would claim that they are trying in some shape or form to be innovative.
Often that is to ward off the threat posed by more dynamic and agile start-ups that are disrupting markets, or, to meet the changing customer demands for improved products and services.
Whether this is true or not is another question altogether. Even the firms that announce the opening of their grand innovation labs are often doing so as much for PR and theatre as they are demonstrating a true commitment to innovation. But it remains the truth that to be innovative is highly prized in business, and that that those firms that do embrace innovation are often among the most successful in their sectors.
The Deloitte Innovation Survey (conducted in 2015) revealed that 66% of respondents believed that innovation is critical for growth – that would surely be even higher today. But there is a question for such businesses – how do you get the balance right between innovating for today (usually more general and incremental improvements) and innovating for tomorrow (new game-changing or disruptive ideas)?
Innovating for today
This is how much innovation really occurs – the gradual and incremental enhancements to elements of day-to-day operations within an organisation that result in quicker implementations. There is always a way of doing something better, faster or more efficiently and such improvements are usually at the heart of any successful idea management programme.
Our work with Waitrose, the UK supermarket is a good example of this. Its continuous improvement programme was rolled out across all 350 Waitrose stores and engaged 60,000 employees. Some fantastic ideas were generated, but one of the most successful changed the formatting and management of till receipts. By cutting down on the length of till receipts alone, Waitrose saved £167,000 annually.
Innovating for today and the on-going improvements that result from that, are hugely important. But no organisation can afford to take their eye off the future either.
Innovating for tomorrow
This is important because change can occur so rapidly in modern business. People often cite Kodak and Blockbuster as examples of companies that didn’t innovate for tomorrow and suffered the ultimate consequences. That’s true, but an overlooked element in the demise of both firms is that just a few years before they crashed, they had some of their best financial figures ever.
When the end for a tired and jaded business arrives, it can come quickly, highlighting the importance of innovating for tomorrow. Alongside the day-to-day improvements there must be provision for bigger and more transformative ideas to grow and take shape. This comes down to business vision and strategy as well as changing the business structure to ensure that innovation is front of mind in everything that you do.
Specific measures would include genuine senior level commitment to inspire and support innovation, encouragement for people to engage and collaborate, connecting a broader group of stakeholders from which to crowdsource ideas from and the overall establishment of a culture that fosters and embraces innovation.
This last point is especially important. An organisation could be set up to deliver a more innovative approach but if the company is not brave enough to implement or even consider some of the bigger and more ambitious ideas, then there is little point in putting a system in place that unearths such ideas.
Predicting the future?
We are living in a period of rapid and intensive change, in business, technology and the wider world. Who can truly say what will emerge over the next decade that could impact us all even further? There is a world of opportunities that encompass the future of work, artificial intelligence, automation, and much more, and predicting the latest innovation is a real challenge.
If predicting the future is hard, then adjusting the course of a business to reflect that could be perceived as even harder. It’s not even certain that every business needs to disrupt their sector – although for many it might be the case - but the purpose of innovating for tomorrow is not to necessarily nail the most game-changing idea ever (if you do, then that’s a win!), but to ensure your organisation is putting processes in place to discover it and to react to it.
Although lightbulb moments and game-changing ideas are popularly presented as coming to someone in a flash of inspiration, this is rarely the case. Rather, it’s the culmination of previous discussions, half-formed ideas and older innovation ideas that often combine to provide the spark. To have that an organisation needs to have been committed to innovation in the short-term and the long-term.
It’s about building the right mindset and processes to be more changeable. Organisations must become nimbler and more experimental, and steer what the future business will look like, building on products and services to make them sustainable in the long-term and truly future-ready.
Innovating for tomorrow will come as a natural result of innovating for today – address the latter effectively and the former should be more than taken care of.
Start innovating for tomorrow and ensure your organisation is around for the coming years and decades to come. Learn how in our whitepaper Disruptors changing the world: Why innovation must be fuelled by people.