Approaches to innovation - II
Mar 13 2012, 18:51 | By Infomedia18
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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.
In the first article [link] in this series, we saw some of the effective approaches towards successful innovation. Here are a few more:
Innovation is not necessarily improving or refining what exists: A discussion on innovation in any organisation normally starts with developing new products, adding new features to existing services, and the like. What can we add to the existing product to make it more appealing to customers? This no doubt leads to extra cost, but is also likely to result in feature overload and information fatigue. Instead, innovation can be a two-way street. It need not always accentuate what exists. Innovation can also result from trimming the frills; in other words, firms can look at ‘innovation by subtraction’. Some features of the existing product or service can be taken away, making it more customer-friendly and cost-effective. The introduction of ATM machines revolutionised the concept of cash withdrawals in banks. This concept has replaced the conventional systems in banks, with tremendous cost savings for both the bank and the account holder.
Innovation is dynamic: History is witness to the failure of a number of ambitious ventures that could not hold on their own due to a lack of continuous innovation. Success and innovation are never constant. A path-breaking innovation today will become an obsolete technology tomorrow. Therefore, organisations should realise that innovation is not a one-time process and that they have to invest time and effort not only in recognising new ideas and evaluating feasibility, but also in making innovation management a part of the everyday working system. When Polaroid developed the instant photography camera, it created ripples in the market and was a runaway success. Soon there were competitors developing similar products. Polaroid tried to sustain its success on its obsolete technology. While competitors were working and launching the new age digital technology cameras, Polaroid stayed focussed on instant photography. In early 2008, Polaroid closed down three factories and laid off 450 people.
Recognising failures: Soichiro Honda, the founder of the Honda motor company once said, “Many people dream of success. But success can only be achieved from repeated failures and introspection. Success represents 1 percent of your work that results from the 99 percent that is called failure.”
Failure is inevitable when attempting something new and untried. The education system, especially during formative years, instils failure as a negative trait. This fear manifests itself in adults, especially in their workplace, and prevents them from taking the road less travelled. Therefore, for an organisation looking to develop an innovative work environment, the key to success lies in how these failures are viewed, managed and interpreted.
The first step is communication. It is important for the management, and therefore the thought leaders, to communicate that when employees are given the liberty to be innovative and succeed, they are also given the freedom to fail. It is also imperative to distinguish between ‘honourable’ and ‘incompetent’ failures. An honest attempt that did not yield results will be an honourable failure, while failure due to lack of basic competency or skills is incompetent failure. Employees should know that the organisation will never penalise or criticise honourable failures. People should be encouraged to talk about the failures in the same light as they would talk about their success. Honourable failures should be used as learning experiences. They should be shared across an organisation as case studies or illustrations.
When the Jacuzzi brothers came up with the innovative idea of the whirlpool bath for arthritis patients, the concept became an instant success. But it was an absolute sales debacle. The product was exorbitantly priced and out of reach of the common man. It was a complete sales failure. The brothers reworked this novel idea from a different perspective and relaunched the same product. But this time, the target segment was the affluent segment of society and the whirlpool bath was positioned as a luxury item. The rest, as they say, is history.
Suresh Lulla is the managing director of Qimpro Consultants Pvt Ltd and founder of the BestPrax Club, and chairman of the IMC Quality AwardsCommittee.
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