Innovation made simple: how to transform your business

Innovation made simple: how to transform your business

A recent article in Forbes magazine suggested that “Many people and organizations consider innovation so difficult that they are too intimidated even to try.”  I have worked with hundreds of businesses to unlock big benefits through innovation and I am no rocket scientist.  It really isn’t that difficult.  The biggest problem is that we think about it in the wrong way.  So, let us make this simple by breaking innovation into 2 simple aspects.

What is innovation anyway?

The most approachable way to think of innovation is simply:

Achieving better results by doing things differently.

Unless we achieve better results then why would we bother?  Makes sense if you think about it, but too many “digital transformation” programmes get so carried away with “elegance of the technology” that they tend to forget about the benefits.  For this reason, we should always start with them.  That way they are much less likely to get lost in the process.  So, let us start by asking a simple question.

If there was a single thing that you could change about your business – what might it be?  Put another way, what is stopping you achieving your goals?  One of my favourite clients runs a bespoke kitchen business.  They thought they were lucky because their reputation for quality meant that local builders often referred them business.  Sounds great, except…

Innovation made simple: how to transform your business

Except that, as you will know if you have ever had any building work done, most builders are really shocking project managers. All too often the builder would phone on a Monday morning to say “you know that kitchen you were going to build and install this week?  Yeah, well we are not ready – can we do it next week.”  So, having prepped the factory and bought all the materials, they were now left with nothing to do.  Not great if you have people to pay and overheads to cover.  This particular way to get business was anything but lucky.  Which brings us neatly on to the second part of the definition.  They needed to do something differently to get clients.

You are probably familiar with the expression “thinking outside the box”.  My advice is don’t.  Why? because our brains are simply not wired that way.  Have you ever noticed how hard it is to stop looking at or thinking about something that somebody has told you to avoid?  We can’t because our brain keeps drawing us back to it.  So while it might be the right thing to do, in terms of advice, it is about as useless as telling someone who is overweight – “it is simple.  Just stop eating the food you love and start doing exercise you hate”.  If we want to achieve things, we need to start working with our habits, not against them.  So back to the question – what is stopping our bespoke kitchen company achieving its goals?

The answer could be one of two things.  It could be the habits of builders.  Given the previous paragraph, you can draw your own conclusions about how easy that will be in practice.  The other possibility is to change the source of referrals – in business model terms, your “channel to market”.  This looks a more promising avenue.  Let us see how we can use our new-found knowledge of habits to identify a place to start.

I asked the client to think about when customers are most likely to want a new kitchen.  We came up with several possibilities.  Then, when we had gathered them, we filtered them by asking which of these occasions we could act on.  When I say act on, I mean how can we intercede in the process while customers are deciding that now is the right time for a new kitchen by introducing our offer.  The idea is to be helpful at a time when customers are most receptive rather than spamming them with advertising in which they have no interest because the timing is wrong, which annoys customers and wastes us money. 

The most promising opportunity was when customers were moving house, which begged the question, what else are customers habitually doing when moving house?  Working with Estate Agents of course.  Now it just so happened that the local estate agent had been struggling to sell a house because it had a really awful kitchen.  So, my client, as a gesture of goodwill, prepared some drawings showing what a dream kitchen might look like in the space.  The house quickly sold and the buyers knew exactly where to source their new kitchen.  This cemented a mutually beneficial partnership between kitchen company and estate agent where both parties achieved better results by doing things differently.

Thinking outside the box would never have come up with such a counter-intuitive arrangement.  But when you work through human habits, this “channel to market” seems really obvious.  The best innovations often are counter-intuitive, which is why so many people struggle.  To act differently, we need to think differently, or as Einstein put it.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Einstein calls on us to create our problems rationally, and solve them creatively. To do so requires changing established thinking patterns.

Posted by Wendy Bonham-Carter, 0 comments