The Innovation Engine

Innovation used to be the preserve of the small agile company that is able to develop a new technology or product, bring it to market quickly, disrupt the status quo and in doing so make a huge impact. Now that is becoming less and less the case as large companies are looking for ways to foster innovation within.

These days when you ask someone to name an innovative company Apple would be the first to spring to mind for most. While, without doubt, they make products that people want to use, most are re-interpretations of products that already exist; mobile/smart phones, laptops, desktop computers, MP3 players to name a few. The one true exception to this is the iPad. In it they created a device that created an entirely new class of device. Previous tablets were simply touch enabled laptops that were hamstrung by being dual purpose machines with a short battery life. Weighing in at about 3kg (more if you add the power supply and an extra battery) meant they were anything but easy to lug around.

The iPad aside Apple’s real innovation has been their principle of keeping designs simple while also being at the cutting edge of hardware. Simple in form, simple in function, simple to use. Before I go any further I should point out that simple should not be confused with basic or limited. There are definite limitations in products like the iPad and iPhone; the lack of an onboard expansion port or USB connector are the examples most often cited. But this is all in keeping with the above principle.

Apple is not the only large company that is looking to innovate, both Google and Microsoft are doing so as are the likes of Boeing and Airbus with their greener planes,

So how are these companies achieving this? In part by acquiring the innovators and absorbing their technology and in part by leveraging their scale and reach to develop new ways of working and engaging with their customers. This HBR ARTICLE shows how one company has just that to take a decisive advantage in the Indian market.

So the challenge for the rest of us is to see where similar opportunities lie within our organisations to do something different with the core competencies of the company and as a result give the customer something that is new and exciting. It could be as simple (conceptually at least) as creating a portal whereby they can access a data subscription in a self serve manner rather than you shipping the data to them.

The lesson to learn from this is that spirit of innovation does not need to be lost as a company grows. This article looks at how a company can maintain that spirit while it grows and also how one that may have lost its way can find the path again.

I believe that no matter what, the key to innovation is to be found in how a company values its employees. One that has them at the core of what it does is much better placed to have them act as the innovative engine room that will drive the company on to success after success.

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