Approaches to innovation - I

Suresh Lulla

Today, with new technology, changing customer preferences, growing markets, new geographies, and an open market with multiple brands/products, garnering a substantial market share is becoming tough. Pricing alone is no longer the differentiator. Organisations realise that they are addressing an aware customer, and also, that they are one among many who are doing so. Innovation and product differentiation therefore, becomes inevitable, if an organisation has to survive.

Some of the effective approaches towards successful innovations are as follows:

Innovation is not perfection: There is no such thing as a perfect product. Companies may run prototype tests and customer studies, but the success of a product cannot be guaranteed until it is eventually launched in the market. The aim is to develop and launch a product/service and continue working towards improvement of its features. Google, for instance, works on the principle of ‘launch early and often’. While this gives them the market advantage of being the early innovator, they also understand the pulse of the market quickly and continue working on refining and improving the product. The quest for perfection in innovation, though idealistic, may not always have positive results. While this could take years for an organisation, the competitor could capture the market first with a similar product, albeit in a beta-testing mode. Time is, therefore, very critical in the innovation process.

Innovation is universal: Creativity has no boundaries and no constraints of education, experience or hierarchy. The same applies to innovation as well. It is the freedom of thought that leads to constructive action. And this is not guided by levels, roles or academic accomplishments. Many organisations set up special teams to work on innovative ideas, processes and technologies. Moreover, innovation cannot be restricted to a select few. It is not necessary that only a designated set of people or teams can produce the desired results. Also, the belief that only senior or experienced members in organisations can innovate is also a myth. The concept of thought leaders definitely supports an organisation in developing a vision, providing a focus to work, but the thread of being innovative and encouraging employees to get into a constructive and creative thinking mode has to run across the length and breadth of the company.

Innovation should be a free for all processes: Ideas can, and have come, from the most unexpected people and the most unexpected situations. For instance, a store operator at Kinko’s, a document processing store chain, noticed that the demand for copying reduced drastically during Christmas time. Customers, he realised, were so busy with buying Christmas gifts that the photocopying work in the office took a backseat. Needless to say, December revenues were low. He came up with a creative idea – to provide customers with the unique option of using the colour copying and binding facilities to create their own customised calendars. Personal photos were also allowed to create these special calendars. He experimented with this idea in his store and it turned out to be popular. Not only did customers come to create and buy these calendars, they also brought along documents to be photocopied. The operator then called the CEO of Kinko’s and explained the idea. This idea was then provided as a service in all the outlets. The idea was not only a big hit across all stores, but also translated into big revenues for the company.

Suresh Lulla is the managing director of Qimpro Consultants Pvt Ltd, founder of the BestPrax Club, and chairman of the IMC Quality Awards Committee.