By: Kathy Kent Toney, President of Kent Business Solutions
Remember when we would get so excited about the launch of a new iPhone?
I remember my first iPhone I bought, an iPhone 5. What an amazing phone it was! I loved it! I never had any problems with it.
Having such a positive experience with my first purchase, I was really excited when I heard leaks about the upcoming iPhone 6. A bigger screen? Horizontal rotation? Wow, I couldn’t wait!
I loved my new iPhone 6 Plus at first, but after six months I starting having issues with it.
This was the beginning of multiple problems. I had it replaced two times, but I still had the same problems with the replacements.
Then there were the follow-on iPhone launches. When I looked at the price tags and the lack of new features, I stuck with my mediocre phone. Apple definitely lost my interest!
I’m in the same boat today. I’m only buying newer, but used versions so they’ll function and new bugs will already have been worked out (what’s up with Apple slowing down the older phones??? ggrrr…did they really have to resort to making their older phones function at a lower level to spur their customers to buy the latest model?
I began thinking recently…what has happened to Apple’s innovation edge? Even Forbes magazine is asking the question!
Obviously, Apple hasn’t suffered much at this point, but should the current trend continue, it will most likely be a much different story.
Like Apple, many companies experience a slow drift away from innovation. Perhaps you need an innovation focus or “recharge”?
If that’s the case, try these following tips to help get you on the right track.
1. Choose and Commit to an Innovation Path
There are three types of innovation: Product, Process and Business Model. Process is the least sexy of the three, but is the easiest to tackle first and can reap great dividends. It can range from updating a cumbersome sales process to revamping your assembly line. Such improvements can immediately capture benefits in speed-to-market and increased profitability. Here’s a great article that explains these concepts in greater detail.
2. Plan for Innovation
As we all know, unless you plan to do something, it most likely won’t happen. Think about including targets for new products and services in your business plan. Make innovation a part of everyone’s yearly goals.
It’s a well-known fact that if you don’t measure it, it most likely won’t happen.
3. Mobilize Your Employees
Try the following ideas to spark innovation with your most valued resource!
Be Approachable & Accessible
For your employees to be truly innovative, senior leaders and managers need to be regularly interacting with their teams. Being approachable and accessible makes all the difference in the world.
One of my clients does a great job of this. The CEO/owner interacts with all levels of employees in his organization. Every day you can see him on the factory floor, playing ping pong with the production workers. For this reason and for many others, they are now the leader in their market!
Inspire your Employees to Dream
What does innovation look like to your employees? Inspire a culture of openness to ideas.
A company called Atlassian has done just that. They have an awesome initiative called their “Fedex” day. Employees are gifted 24 hours to come up with fantastic ideas, new innovations or process improvements that can be implemented immediately. You can learn about it in this fun video about Daniel Pink’s book
Make Innovation the Norm
Take it one step further…let workers know how much you value their ideas. Make innovation a part of your company values. Talk it up during staff get-togethers. Hold regular ideation sessions.
And when your employees come up with great ideas and you celebrate that, other employees will be inspired to do the same. Publicly recognizing them can spur on this type of behavior, which can only help the company.
This is truly a best practice for driving innovation forward in a company. For example: according to a study by employee motivation agency Maritz, 55 percent of employees strongly agree that the quality of their company’s recognition programs affects their performance, but only 10 percent of those polled are satisfied with these efforts.
Bottom line: encourage innovation efforts to be an everyday occurrence.
Reward Innovative Ideas
Take it up one more notch…reward, not just recognize, employees for innovative ideas.
When great ideas emerge, bonuses are the most common solution for companies with a large enough cash flow. A cash reward is always nice, but there are many more creative options to reward employees in a meaningful way.
A company called Frima recognizes smaller ideas with a rewards system call Frima Points. When an employee comes forward with a fresh idea, they earn points which can later be traded for tangible gifts. Frima’s gifts, such as payment for babysitters, home repair services, and the like, emphasize work-family balance—a core value for Frima—while also fostering productivity.
Allow for More Margin
One great way to reward employees that deserves its own category is allowing more time for creative thinking.
This has proved very successful for one of my clients. Prior to their Scrum implementation I steered for them, their technical employees always had their noses to the grindstone, working hard at what needed to be completed that day. Their culture included inspiring them to dream, but due to their heavy workload, they weren’t allowing them the margin to dream.
Once they realized the disconnect, they hired additional engineers. With the additional help, it became second nature for them to creatively think—to have the time on a regular basis to dream up new, innovative products. And it’s beginning to reap big dividends for them…happier employees, more innovative ideas, and a more profitable bottom line.
4. Gather Feedback from Your Customers
There are lots of way to do this: listen to customer complaints, interview/survey them, run a contest for new product ideas, or monitor social media posts. Then consolidate feedback as a basis for your innovation efforts. Most importantly, act on what you discover!
Use Social Media
Use social media to your advantage by following trends and asking questions on Twitter and Facebook groups. Ask what people want to see in future products or what the big new idea will be. Many early adopters are active on social network groups and will happily respond with suggestions.
Frito Lay is a great example of company that has done this effectively in a very fun way. I’m sure many of you have seen the Do Yourself a Flavor campaign on social media awhile back, and it was very successful. By inviting customers to choose new flavors of Lay’s Potato Chips, they brought fresh appeal to a very mature product offering, and at the same time increased brand loyalty.
Observe Customers Interacting With Your Products
There is a whole field of study dedicated to observing customer interacting with products. Ethnographic Market Research uses insights gained through observation with the goal to develop products that customers will love. This is a great way to inspire the development of innovative products and/or services.
Here’s a great example: Levi Strauss began to market a new line of jeans based on what they saw customers doing with brand new Levi jeans. They were ripping them! So they started selling pre-ripped jeans with great results.
One of my clients did this with a prototype for a new product they had developed. They were all excited to show a contractor a prototype of a new product they had developed. They asked the contractor to install the product on a building, and it’s a good thing they did! My client discovered they had made a very serious mistake in the design that made it non-functional. If they hadn’t have done this, the product would have been put into production, and it would have been a very costly mistake.
5. Think Outside the Box
There a lot of things you can do to take your products to the next level. Here are a few ideas you can try out:
Examine Patents for Inspiration
Check through patents that apply in your field. What ideas can you put into practice from active patents that could achieve the same end goal? Are there any expiring that you could use that method? Are there some that you could license?
Transform Products through Add-ons
Try combining your product with something different to make something new, e.g. a cell phone with a flash light, a watch with linked cell phone technology, etc.
Eliminate to Innovate
Is there a way to remove something from your product or service to make it better? Dell eliminated the computer store, Amazon eliminated the bookstore, the Sony Walkman eliminated speakers and record functions.
Adapt a Product to a New Use
Think of different applications for an existing products. A good example of this is De Beers—they decided to focus on engagement rings when previously they had only produced industrial diamonds. It opened up a large, new market for them.
Borrow Ideas from the Past
Are there any methods, products or services that were in use years ago in your market space that could provide inspiration for developing something new? It has been said that Speed Dating is really a relaunch of a Victorian dance format where ladies had cards marked with appointments.
Is there another company you can collaborate with that provides great synergy? Through such a partnership, you can go where you can’t go it alone. It’s important, however, to have a similar philosophy to go along with different skills. That is what Mercedes did with Swatch when they came up with the Smart car.
7. Minimize or Maximize
If there is something that is standard in the industry, try minimizing or maximizing it. Starbucks maximized price and customer experience. Southwest minimized standard offerings, like serving meals. At the same time, they maximized customer service.
It is better to be different than to be better.
8. Bring in Outside Help
If your company lacks bandwidth, contract with someone for identified projects, or if you’re not sure where to start, think about bringing someone in who’s skilled in innovation consulting.
These are just a few ideas on how to spark innovation in your organization. Based on my experience with my iPhones, perhaps Apple needs to check these out as well!
What innovation efforts have worked for you? I’d love to hear what has helped your company to be more innovative! Or if you’re currently experiencing problems in this area, I’d love to brainstorm through some ideas of where you could improve your profitability and increase innovation. Click here to schedule a time and we’ll get something on the calendar!
Kathy Kent Toney
I'm passionate about helping organizations grow profitably in ways they haven't imagined!