Does Your Innovation Strategy Complement Your Business Strategy?
There are a lot of strategies out there. Marketing strategies. E-mail strategies. Even Design Thinking Strategies. But the one that’s often over looked, is Innovation Strategies. That’s right, innovation doesn’t happen overnight and having a road map towards your innovation vision can help to ensure it materializes and leads to success. In last week’s hangout, Let’s Talk Innovation Strategies, we chatted with innovation and design thinking experts about how companies can develop their vision, create an innovation strategy, and execute on its implementation.
Cortney Rowan, Director of Strategy at Altitude, started off our conversation with a discussion of what innovation strategy means,
We think of innovation strategies at Altitude as part of a company’s overall growth strategy. Companies can grow in a variety of ways: (for example) through acquisition and expanding into different geographies. Innovation is another way companies look to grow their company. Whether that’s growing their product portfolio or getting into adjacent markets. So here (at Altitude) we try to have that lens on when we think about how we can help companies grow through innovation and expand beyond their core…usually an innovation strategy does include another business model strategy with it because as we are creating ‘new’, we need to think about how that impacts the business and whether there’s the right strategy in place from a business standpoint.
Innovation strategies are not simply just new products. They can be services or overhauls of entire business units that help launch companies into the future.
Dave Braverman, Sr. Digital Product Manager at Stanley Black & Decker, added that when defining your innovation strategy it is important to have a clear goal and remember “Innovation is not invention. An invention can be an innovation, but there are plenty of innovations that are not inventions.” He pointed out that this is one of the biggest challenges large corporations, especially tech enabled ones face. Innovation is much more than invention, it’s much more than products or services. As Cortney noted, it can be a transformation of business units who are operating in silos today and yet need to be working collaboratively in order to enable the business to better perform for the future. Having clear goals in mind and a roadmap in place helps to make innovation for the future a clear and present reality.
How Do You Improve Your Innovation Strategy?
Picking up on what Dave said, Cortney explained that companies do innovation best when they understand that:
…innovation is not just an idea or an invention. In order to harness the best innovation, they (companies) need to go deep into their market and get a fundamental understanding of their market: What are their customer’s needs? What are their customer’s jobs-to-be-done?…It’s that deeper and broader understanding of your customers that often uncovers insights you might not have expected…
And so, innovation starts first and foremost with the customer. In our previous panels, experts have talked about how the customer must be central to any design process, including those that involve innovation. Even when companies are looking to transform their business units, they must first and foremost think of their customer’s needs.
A first step in improving your company’s innovation strategy is ensuring your company has dedicated resources and a team focused on innovation. Our panelist agreed that dedicated resources are vital to the success of innovation. Having disparate groups with partial innovation roles typically results in competition for resources with the core businesses winning out. Innovation requires not only dedication, but also alignment from the top down.
Alignment on the innovation strategy is vital to ensure a company’s success. This means everyone, the C-suite to practitioners, need to have the same definition and alignment of what “innovation” means to the company. More importantly, all parties need to be aligned as to what success looks like.
Some practices that Stanley Black and Decker use to help encourage more innovation across groups, include using dedicated innovation teams, encouraging participation across all business silos, and managing internal innovation competitions. The company uses their internal portal to run a challenge so all business units can submit ideas and solutions to try and solve problems submitted by larger business units. The result is not only interesting ideas, but also helps to foster a community and company of innovation and participation.
What Challenges Do Companies Face?
Cortney and JP Abello, our third innovation expert on our hangout, discussed the biggest challenges companies need to be aware of when implementing an effective innovation strategy:
…one of the biggest challenges we have seen is balancing patience with urgency…You need to go slow to go fast…go deep to understand customer needs and then spend time to understand what that means for the potential opportunity and the business.
The “go slow to go fast” is vital to truly and meaningfully understand the customer experience, and how that can be foundational to a successful innovation project.
The panelists chatted about how companies need to be “all in” to be successful with innovation. This means not only dedicating time, but human capital and money to help ensure innovation strategies launch. Companies need to be willing to commit time, sometimes several years towards launching innovation growth projects.
One of the greatest challenges companies face is simply articulating the importance of time when it comes to developing innovation strategies. Our panelists agreed, that time is truly what’s needed to help see success in the innovation space. As the C-suite pushes for “results” it’s important to have those at the helm of the innovation projects stand firm and ensure all that time will yield valuable results.
Failure is Good for Innovation
The panelists agreed that failure needs to be tolerated by a company wanting to grow through innovation even though the core business often does not accept failure.
Dave referenced Apple’s own maps product that was initially ridiculed yet they kept developing and learning through iterations. He said, “This is really key to the innovation space – to not leave it at ‘this isn’t what we thought, this isn’t what I wanted to have happen’ but instead… ‘What did we learn and how can we move forward from here?’ to do something different.”
JP reminded us of Thomas Edison’s quote when iterating to invent the lightbulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
What Skills Should an Innovation Strategist Possess?
Being a good storyteller is critical to the success of a great innovation strategist. As Dave of Stanley Black and Decker said, they need to “…paint the vision of what the future could be like. What’s the experience…touch on the emotions…”
He adds that a great innovation strategist is also individuals who will challenge the status quo. They do not accept negativity. They encourage a company culture of innovation. Being open to change, and instilling it also helps to create a great innovation strategist.
JP talked about being,
…a broad thinker and still be able to go down into the details…By broad thinker it means to think across various disciplines and look in (new) areas and not be afraid to use old ideas….
For some companies, this means reexamining existing products and iterating. For example, with Yahoo Widgets. JP talked about how when the company realized the product was not doing well, instead of shelving the entire product, they iterated. The result was the launch of Smart TV, a newer product that saw great market success.
Another key skill that innovation strategists should have?
“Having (the) empathy to help you step into the customer’s shoes when you go out in the field” is vital said Cortney. And when you bring back your findings and observations, a great strategist needs to be a great translator of a customer needs. They need to be able to translate patterns in a cohesive and simple way.
Tips to Get Started
The panelists wrapped up our Let’s Talk Innovation Strategies hangout with some tips for the listeners to be sure to take to heart:
- Expect to have a curve to adoption with early versus late adopters;
- Look for what others have done that you may be able to reuse;
- Innovation is not invention;
- Innovation can come from lots of different places. Utilize resources internally and externally;
- Innovation is an iterative process.
Don’t Give Up
Successful Innovation Strategies need internal champions to succeed. This includes Executive level sponsorship as well as an innovation strategist who can lead. Dave put it well, “The way a lot of innovation makes it through really large companies is (for an innovation strategist) to not just give up.” This is especially important when the innovation process does not immediately address what the core business is used to. By disrupting the status quo, innovation strategies are helping to lead companies into the future.
Please check out our Let’s Talk Innovation Strategies hangout to hear more about what our panelists discussed.
Dave Braverman is Sr. Digital Product Manager at Stanley Black & Decker. Dave is focused on helping the 174-year-old, S&P 500 company extend its leadership in mechanical-electrical products, to those products that take full advantage of the emerging Internet of Things (or IoT). In his current role, Dave defines success as connecting previously unconnected products and developing exceptional digital solutions that drive productivity and efficiency across a wide variety of industries for customers around the globe.
JP Abello is a judge for the CES Innovation Awards with 5 categories, and a judge for the Emmy Awards for Interactive Media. JP was most recently an IoT thought leader, strategist and innovator at Nielsen. He founded the W3C Web Advertising Business Group, and co-chaired the IoT consortium Privacy & Security Task Force. He is also an advisor for both IoT World and AI World.
Cortney Rowan is Director of Strategy at Altitude. She leads Altitude’s strategy practice which includes helping companies manage their people through large-scale organizational changes. She helps companies achieve growth through human-centered innovation and product portfolio planning. She has over 15 years of experience in strategy, business innovation and change management.