Like any good motivational business speaker will tell you, of all the buzzwords utilized in business today, innovation ranks among the most popular – and most widely misunderstood. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, innovation is simply the introduction of something new, such as an original idea or way to reposition your business. So really, when we talk about innovation, we’re just discussing creative and resourceful approaches to productivity or problem solving – the same sort of approaches we’re all being forced to take to adapt to a fast-moving business world on a daily basis.
Moreover, innovation isn’t always about cutting-edge breakthroughs or game-changing technologies either. In fact, as motivational business speakers often remind us, simple shifts in business strategy or outlook can be every bit as powerful as new technology and groundbreaking discoveries. But most importantly, as we discovered while researching a new book on leading with change, innovation is simply a matter of perspective, and process of constant reinvention. And organizations of every size and background have the ability to leverage its core principles to succeed more frequently going forward.
Consider that every year, Strategy& studies hundreds of the world’s top innovators—companies like Google, Amazon, and Samsung—to see what gives them a competitive edge. Shockingly, market leaders don’t have more time, more money or greater resources to throw at problems. Rather, their key source of competitive advantage is proven time and again to be that they simply provide their people with better platforms for brainstorming, sharing, and experimenting with new ideas. Or in plain English, they give their people more chances to speak up, share their insights and take action when new opportunities or challenges present themselves.
These companies’ leading source of innovative new ideas may also surprise you as well. Time and again, studies show it’s simply listening to customers – again, an area where frontline employees are those best poised to spot rising concerns or areas of interest.
As a result, to stay in tune with changing business environments and continually reestablish competitive advantage, more and more market leaders aren’t simply investing in ways to operate more productively or cost-effectively. They’re investing in platforms and programs for improving teamwork, communications and sustaining innovation. Recognizing that everyday workers are those closest to buyers and often the most informed audience in any organization, these organizations are growingly looking to leaders at every level. And as business speakers can tell you, they’re increasingly looking to these change agents to help them stay more attuned to changing markets, make more informed choices, and explore new avenues for driving business growth and value on a running basis.
- At big data leader EMC, business units routinely put pressing strategic problems to employees to solve in the form of innovation contests. Workers can suggest solutions online, get feedback from colleagues, and vote for winning ideas, which are turned into real-world rollouts. Amazingly, many of EMC’s most promising new innovations are now coming from when employees worldwide independently team up to bring even ideas that are technically losers to life.
- Pharmaceutical giant Merck, maker of medicines like Claritin and skincare products such as Coppertone, doesn’t just track professionals’ output either. It tracks which projects its people are most interested in working on. Why? Because it’s found that when it comes to new and innovate ventures, past experience and accomplishments don’t always mean much. But when it assigns leadership of these projects to the most excited and enthusiastic employees capable of doing the job, performance levels are proven to skyrocket.
- And at personal finance software maker Intuit, leaders say their only role now is to “remove the speed bumps in experimenters’ way.” Executives have made it possible for workers to quickly and cost-effectively propose ideas via online collaboration and sharing tools, secure resources for these projects, and quickly run prototypes and pilot programs in real-world environments. Dozens of revenue-generating products and features have resulted.
You don’t have to be a motivational business speaker to understand: Innovation is far more straightforward and easy to achieve than you might suspect – in fact, odds are greater than not that you’re innovating consistently already. As you can see, for many of today’s most successful businesses, winning with innovation is simply a process of taking action – and matter of perspective.
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