Culture at the Heart of Innovation

Is innovation what you really want?

In an age of mass disruption, businesses know that they need to innovate. They know that they need to employ innovative people, adopt innovative technologies and pursue innovative strategies. The most recent UK Innovation Survey (UKIS), published in 2015, found that the percentage of innovative businesses has risen from 45 per cent to 53 per cent since 2013. Innovation is far from a new concept and humans were innovating before they could even stand upright. But now, more than ever, the word is thrown around like confetti. So what does it really  mean for business?

Defining innovation
A concise summary from the Oxford English Dictionary states that innovation is ‘making changes in something established’. But is it really this simple? UKIS 2015 defines innovation as the introduction of significantly improved products or processes, engagement in innovation projects, the development of new and improved forms of organisation, as well as innovative marketing concepts or strategies. Innovation, though, is far easier said than done.

At Disruption Summit Europe 2017, D/SRUPTION speaker, guest writer and innovation expert John Caswell, from Group Partners expressed the view that while many businesses say they want innovation, many end up abandoning the idea.

“Bigger organisations bring us in to help them innovate and transform. We have all the conversations you would expect. They’ve said they want innovation, so we ask them to define what it means to each of them,” he explains, “We write their answers into a framework on a 100 foot long white wall. A clear definition of innovation will inform everything. And there it is right in front of them, plain as day. They are nodding happily as each one adds more richness to the definition. Finally, they look at what they’ve said they want and conclude: we don’t want that at all.”

The reasons for this, says John, are to do with expense, difficulty, and a reluctance to change.

The ‘Innovation Dilemma’
Innovation isn’t something that companies can just tick off of their lists at the end of the day. It’s a mentality, or rather a culture, that has been enabled by technological growth. But it can prove problematic when hindered by logistical or practical barriers. The Innovator’s Dilemma, then, isn’t the only reoccurring headache that businesses experience. They also have to face up to the reality of achieving innovation. As well as deciding whether or not to innovate, they have to work out if – and how – they can. This is where structural changes like innovation labs come in. These hubs equip businesses with the resources needed for impactful innovation, from providing physical space to encouraging transformed mentalities. Another emerging tool is ‘startup as a service’. This strategy helps businesses to create a suitable environment for innovative development without compromising the company’s incumbent infrastructure. Making use of startup strategies is something that non-corporate organisations have to consider, too. The UK government, for instance, has set up an innovation agency called Innovate UK to support companies with advice and resources. Since 2007, the agency has committed £1.8 billion to helping businesses facilitate innovation.

Innovation is far from a new approach to business, but it looks like the definition of the word is changing in light of technological disruption. It’s clear that the companies of today want to be innovative, but when it comes down to it they can be quickly discouraged by the cost and difficulty of change. Either way, despite the plethora of definitions associated with the term, it’s clear that innovation is necessary. It goes without saying that the businesses that make a tangible effort to enable innovation are most successful. As much as innovation requires adapting to fluid markets, it’s about looking forward and making the best possible predictions about how markets will evolve. The first step, of course, is confronting the Innovator’s Dilemma – but this is only the very first step. It’s up to businesses themselves to decide on their own definition of innovation, and make it happen.

Do you consider your business to be innovative? How would you define innovation? Do businesses have to adopt advanced technology in order to innovate? Share your thoughts and experiences.