Over the years, we have seen companies roll out big-ticket projects in an effort to jumpstart their digital transformation. From revamping organisational structures to making capital-intensive technology purchases, businesses in the technology industry have been the first to jump the gun and make serious forays into what the digital economy had to offer. They could easily be edged out—that they knew very well—so it was a matter of constantly looking for the right formula to remain relevant in the competition.
But today’s companies cannot be expected to do guesswork and still survive. With the sweeping transformations brought about by technology, it seems innovating can only be the way forward. Think back to eight years ago when Uber was founded. Or when Foodpanda started to even out the competition in the online food business. Surely, customers are empowered now more than ever, and the least that businesses can do is overhaul their old clunky systems, innovate, and work towards improving customer satisfaction.
But what does it really mean to innovate? What are the skills needed to be an agile and innovative player in the industry? Does it begin in an individual, or is it something that must start at a more systemic level?
Innovation means opening up to multiple possibilities to make things faster, better, and simpler. Dependent on the what-ifs rather than on logical assumptions, innovation is the ability to spot unexamined trends and use them to diversify or introduce changes to the market.
Innovative leaders aren’t content with the status quo; they are excited by the unknown. From their perspective, everything can be made better. They do not rest until they are able to break down complexities, execute their vision, and stretch further their goals.
Innovation means opening up to multiple possibilities to make things faster, better, and simpler.
How can we then drive innovative leadership across business? What qualities should we have to stay afloat in the ocean of competition?
To be an innovative business, you must begin from the ground up. This means cultivating a culture of innovation among employees and challenging them to be different from their precedents. What can the new workforce learn from their leaders? What insights can the management impart to the young to further push business growth? Certainly, innovation isn’t a one-way street; it is a result of everybody getting their acts together to produce something useful. And it can’t be useful only now. It must extend far into the future where the real competition is. As innovative leaders, it’s important that we stay on top of our present needs, while also thinking about what the uncertain future can bring to our business and our people.
Innovation means putting in place a systematic set of innovation metrics that tracks business performance. To sustain business performance, innovation must be articulated in quantifiable terms. Sure, it’s a hazy concept to pin down. But according to one study, a comprehensive dashboard must have key elements such as leadership, competence, inputs, throughputs, and outputs, efficiency, climate, and balance to see whether the business is moving up. This is also one way of assessing whether we’re going over the top with our innovation spending, or whether we’re focusing too much on a specific area of our business that produces little to no returns.
Innovation is about learning from the past. When we speak of innovation in business terms, we are referring to the ability of enterprises to execute big ideas regardless of multiple failures. Definitely, successful companies didn’t get it right the first time; they hopped from one failure to another, suffered a string of losses, until they were able to arrive at a working formula. And they knew they couldn’t stop there. They would have to continuously challenge themselves, enquiring into the what-ifs, to finally gain some level of stability. Innovation is therefore about asking the difficult questions—What does the future hold? What can our errors teach us? What other avenues can we possibly conquer?—and feeding them into right, purposeful action.
Behind great innovations are people who know how to pay attention. To see something work, we need to have a mind that keeps searching for solutions and an attitude that keeps challenging conventions. It definitely won’t be easy at the start, but with an innate desire to build customer value, businesses can certainly have a head-start in creating the next big innovation to hit our market.
Behind great innovations are people who know how to pay attention.
Ahead of the innovation game or still lagging behind? Let’s find out here.