Tips for business innovation - Business Works
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Tips for business innovation

by Stephen Archer, Director, Spring Partnerships Empowering employees to be innovative and creative and encouraging a 'can do' attitude can reap rewards for everyone - whether monetary or reward-based - and companies that do this are more likely to survive the recession, says Stephen Archer, Director of Spring Partnerships. The success of businesses like the John Lewis Partnership where its 81,000 'partners' own two of the UK's leading retail businesses - John Lewis and Waitrose - shows what can be achieved when a business is powered by its people.

  1. Understand and know what the market wants, but know more about what your competitors are offering and how they behave.
    Competitors of all kinds are the minimum benchmark for which to aim. Equalling the value of competitive offerings is rarely going to suffice – always ensure you are moving to stay ahead. Look at every weakness in competitor offerings and operations and use advanced brain storming tools such as 'meta planning' to develop and refine the winning concepts.

  2. Empower people to implement their innovations.

  3. Make it clear that a business must always develop its products and services.
    NEVER stand still. Even those lucky enough to have patent or intellectual property protection must seek to acquire more advantages. If in any doubt about this then compare the fortunes of General Motors to Honda in the past decade.

  4. The customer is always a good start point for innovative thinking and should be a central focus for the whole business.
    The customer and their relationship is central to business success. Do not rush to copy some competitors' ways of caring for customers (eg. automated telephone services!). Develop new ways to engage with customers in a way that customers want. They will repay you over and over. This is how Virgin Atlantic took so much business away from the likes of British Airways.

  5. Treat internal employees as customers and friends.
    The best innovation can come from co-operation between employees – this is an effective way of bringing out entrepreneurs. Identify and appoint innovation 'champions' around the business. These people will be the leaders on innovation development and manage the process. They must drive the culture.

  6. Any function has scope for innovation – always.
    HR, finance, customers service, manufacturing, legal - they all must innovate and an innovation culture that embraces all the functions will be a better joined up organisation.

  7. Lead people to look externally for inspiration and don’t be afraid to steal other people’s ideas.
    Some of the best ideas and simplest innovations are from businesses that already have had such a drive or survived times of stress. Copy best practice. Sometimes copying is the best route. However, copy it, and then improve it. Look at how the Japanese destroyed the UK motorcycle industry, they copied the UK and made the products better.

  8. Managers should promote external focus from all departments.
    Many businesses suffer from internalism and parochialism. They stunt growth, innovation and sap energy. Assume that your business could be killed off by new entrants to the market or new innovations - people or technology-based. Get people to think the un-thinkable, develop thinking around scenarios that may seem unrealistic. Remember, in 2007 the idea that several banks would fail was unthinkable.

  9. Lastly, companies must look forward, not back all the time.
    Create a 'can do' rather than 'can't do' culture. There are 'no buts'; only 'yes, and ...'

In the end, innovation is an attitude of mind. It can be developed and sustained through consistent behaviours in the business. The value is enormous and in truth no one has a choice in the matter. Everyone must adapt, change and innovate and we can all become entrepreneurs.

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