Innovation is a term that is used a lot these days, but it is far more than just a buzzword. There is a more to it than simply designing something new - that's creativity. And there is more to it than producing something that sells - that's profitability. To be innovative, you need to develop and introduce a range of fresh solutions that respond subtly and markedly to a changing market's needs. Sound logical? It should. But it can be much harder than it sounds. The good news is, it doesn't have to be.
Sharing for success
When in possession of a rule-breaking, game-changing idea, the instinct can be to keep it close to your chest. That has certainly been the viewpoint of many an inventor and one currently demonstrated by the technology giants. But is this the best approach? We asked long-time collaborator, colleague and client, Claas Bartels for his views on the subject.
"Innovation is a big topic among the Android developers, for example, but competition is so tough that openly sharing valuable assets is not that common. Developers tend to keep their IP of the product or service they create or innovate. This is because Apps on Android are more likely to be free of charge and therefore Android developers need to be more creative in regards to their business model and monetization strategy," explains Bartels, who should know. He is Associate Principal at Accenture Digital.
However, according to Bartels, where the Android market succeeds at an open innovation strategy is in the way it operates as a platform. That is when the open source concept becomes more relevant. In short, this is where both ideas and rewards are shared.
"Google keeps the product open source to drive the adoption of it by mobile device manufacturers. This in turn becomes more attractive for developers to innovate on that platform, which in turn becomes attractive again for manufacturers to develop more and higher-end devices that run Android," said Bartels. "This becomes a prosperous cycle that benefits from open innovation in the Android platform."
Bringing innovation to life
It is one thing to talk about being innovative; it is quite another to bring this approach to life. When it comes to business, there are generally four types of players:
1. Active leaders in the market: those leading the industry in coming up with new technology
2. Leaders in the market: those that will copy from others, potentially in other markets, and do it better or for a lesser cost
3. Active followers: those that troll the latest thing and then replicate it
4. Followers: those who simply go with the flow, perhaps producing a cheaper alternative to popular products on the market.
Here is a prime example of active leadership. We used to work with a housing association that was always on the lookout for ways to do things bigger and better. But when they wanted to change the way they operated their repairs division, they didn't come up with ideas from thin air. Instead, they looked at how a vehicle breakdown service managed to achieve their '30 minutes to a stranded or broken down' target.
And here is where they got innovative. They took the time to understand how the breakdown service could get to a vehicle within 30 minutes, as getting to their residents followed a similar principle. From this, they created a concept of mobile repair units to be responsive to the needs of their housing association members. This fundamentally changed the way they operated, for the better. This proves that when it comes to innovation leadership, you do not necessarily need to invent the wheel - but you do need to potentially reinvent it for your particular industry.
Taking our own advice
At Potential Squared, we are also trying to work as both leaders and active leaders. Certainly, not in everything we do - when processing an invoice or resourcing consultants for projects we 'follow'. But at the heart of our business, we want to live and breathe leadership principles. We've been around long enough to know that to do so effectively, we may need some help.
We challenge the age old principle that great minds think alike. In fact, we thrive on their differences. This is why our new product and solution development model is focused on the process of innovation. With Design House, our aim is rely on 'open innovation', a term Bartels reminds us was coined by economist and Professor Eric Von Hippel. We create a list of products or areas that need attention, and then bring together a group of people who have the passion and the insight to brainstorm new approaches. The 'idea stage' graduates to the 'design stage' and finally culminates at the 'factory stage'. The warehoused 'products' are then free for Design House members to use in Potential Squared or in their own businesses.
In essence, we've chosen to share ideas and to collaborate in a similar way that the Android platform does. The reason is simple - we want to stay innovative and we recognise that the value in doing so outweighs the risk. We also believe in the power of paying it forward - evaluating what you can do for others, rather than focusing on what they can do for you, and finding a balance that works.
According to Bartels, we're in good company with other innovators who are following a similar model. These include initiatives such as Connect + Develop by P&G (www.pgconnectdevelop.com), BMW Customer Innovation Lab (www.bmwgroup-cocreationlab.com/cocreation) and Innocentive Open Innovation Problem Solving (www.innocentive.com). We'd like to invite more business leaders to do the same. After all, it doesn't just take a designer to implement innovation; each and every one of us is capable of changing world around us. In the end, being innovative takes more than just fresh thinking, it demands a collective leap of faith.