Tips to flex your innovation muscle

Posted on 28/03/2019

Professor Feng Li, PhD, FBAM, Head of Technology and Innovation Management, Cass Business School

Many business leaders underestimate the scale and speed of digital disruption that is bearing down on them. Innovation is on every organisation’s agenda, and although most don’t have issues developing strategies or generating new ideas, they often fail in their execution; implementing new business models or turning ideas into business outcomes.

How companies continually adapt to new technologies and embrace different ideas at pace is key to their survival. How to achieve this is the foundation for a report I recently authored with VMware, examining how to bridge the emerging innovation-execution gap in an increasingly digital landscape.

I have four pieces of advice for business leaders looking to transform at speed:

Innovate by experimenting 

Traditionally, businesses maintain a linear relationship between innovation and execution, with expected outcomes defined at the beginning. However, with the path of a business becoming increasingly trickier to predict, it’s almost impossible to establish with certainty what will and won’t be successful.

What’s clear is that companies need to be able to green light an idea quickly, adjusting their strategy as problems arise. VMware’s EMEA Chief Technology Officer, Joe Baguley, comments: “we must have a solid framework that allows agility, founded in the culture, the methodology and technology of an organisation.”

Organisations need to ensure strategy creation and execution are intertwined, based on continuous monitoring, regular redefinition of path and destination, and frequent course corrections. Failure to do this can mean ideas becoming obsolete before they’re implemented.

Don’t always search for something ‘new’ 

Many organisations invest huge time and effort unearthing ‘new’ business models to allow digital technologies to better underpin strategic change and innovation. But these are rarely based on unprecedented ideas. With new technologies expanding the boundaries of what is possible, their potential is often left unrealised.

Instead businesses should focus on adaptation, scaling from what might already be in place in other domains or simply removing old barriers to change. Exploring a portfolio of business models is also wise, providing organisations with the ability to ‘hedge bets’ across different opportunities.

Support cultural changes with technology infrastructure

Developing a holistic innovation strategy requires more than a change in mindset and culture. For it to be successful long term, businesses need to ensure that delivery is quick and effective.

Senior business leaders must take strategic responsibility to ensure their digital infrastructure is ready and able to scale resource at speed across today’s range of devices, applications and clouds.

Culture translates formal rules into unwritten ones, and it is these unwritten rules that determine behaviours and guide employees. Any attempt to change culture without an understanding of the underlying assumptions and repercussions will fail.

Mind the gap

Many businesses admit they aren’t good at turning new ideas into business outcomes. To paraphrase Kevin O’Connor from global information and insight provider IHS Markit, “innovation should be treated as a muscle that needs to be exercised; the more you use it, the stronger it gets.”

In a world characterised by exponential growth, blurring sector boundaries and expanding ecosystems, the survival of many businesses depends on their ability to understand change and respond to it quickly. They must be able to innovate as they go, without all the answers in place.

Good ideas, in isolation, won’t do this. Being innovative means building and maintaining the capabilities to pursue these ideas, at the right time, while regularly revisiting and updating strategic plans in response to the latest information available.


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