Innovative companies are able to differentiate themselves from their competitors; they build competitive edge and reach higher levels of satisfaction among their customers. They are more attractive to potential investors and the people who work for them are usually more motivated and engaged. All this converts into increased sales and profits.
At this point in time hardly anyone disputes that innovation is a key element for competitiveness and growth in companies. However, there are still only a few companies that carry out innovation-related activities and even fewer do this in a constant and systematic way.
Most best practices, promoted by business schools and business management publications and accepted by companies as dogma, are much more focused on operating the current business rather than on exploring new opportunities.
In many cases, these practices have emerged from different business needs to current ones that are mostly focused on execution and efficiency. They are not designed to constantly generate new solutions. Moreover, they often curtail the behaviours required for exploring, or what’s the same thing, innovation.
This absence of guidance leads to many companies to find solutions for this situation. One of the most common is to go outside the usual environment, find a place away from the day to day routine, hire a facilitator and spend two fantastic days full of inspiration and energy brainstorming and having a good time.
Regrettably, once those sessions are over and we return to the workplace and the reality of the daily routine, the focus is back again on running the current business. Ideas end up being slowly forgotten and never come to be implemented and the energy invested dissipates gradually.
Innovation cannot become something that occasionally happens. To generate results, it should be part of the daily work. The organization must be designed to bring operations and exploration together. Plus the people who work in it must be involved in activities that aim to seek inspiration, generate ideas, and implement them. In other words, they must adopt new behaviours.
One of the most famous equations in social sciences in connection with human behaviour studies was developed by the psychologist, Kurt Lewin. According to this equation, our behaviour is determined by two variables, our personality and the environment we find ourselves in.
Behaviour = Personality x Environment
Following this logic, to make someone adopt behaviours favouring innovation; it is crucial for leaders to create environments conducive to it. At the same time, these leaders must be able to influence the mindset among the members of the organization. In short, they must build innovative cultures that encourage new behaviours.
To think differently, as in to snap out of cognitive inertia, the best way is to snap out of the inertia of action. Put in another way, doing new activities will lead us to think differently and if this is done in an environment that has been created to cultivate such behaviour, we will enter into a virtuous circle that manifests as a constant current of innovation.
The great challenge for people in positions of leadership is not so much that they be visionaries or innovators themselves, but to be able to activate all the levers that make people adopt innovative behaviours. At the same time, be able to get the company’s culture, structure and systems to support them.
People are behind any new product. Therefore, companies that want to base their competitiveness on innovation should go beyond the easy talk and implement a series of actions that encourage, support and reward innovative behaviours and everything else that comes with that.
Companies want to create value, grow, and be competitive through a fairly constant influx of new products, services or other forms of innovation. As customers, we can perceive certain companies as innovative, owing to their ability to surprise us and spur a constant stream of novelties. However, this is merely the visible face of innovation.
It should not be forgotten that innovating is very different from daily management. The constant failure to notice the difference between the activities needed for creating something new and the ones needed for executing efficiently goes a long way to explaining the difficulties many companies encounter when seeking to incorporate innovation, often by shoehorning, into their employees’ day to day. In an environment where everything is designed for achieving efficiency, there is no room for innovation. First the people must be prepared and the environment adapted.
Many managers want to reap the benefits that innovation can bring to their companies. Most of them think up new products, services or business models to succeed in their markets. However, for that to happen, first they must concentrate their efforts on how to manage their people, provide them with an environment that drives and rewards innovation, and encourages their people to adopt certain behaviours and engage in new activities. Without action, there is no innovation.