Scott Steinberg is an award-winning professional speaker. He is among today’s best-known trends experts and futurists, a bestselling expert on leadership and innovation and the author of “Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty” and “Millennial Marketing: Bridging the Generation Gap.” His website is www.AKeynoteSpeaker.com.
Strategic innovation ranks among the most frequently cited topics in business today, especially for organizations operating in fast-changing and often hugely disruptive business environments. It’s therefore no surprise that many executives are equally concerned about how to drive innovation inside their own organizations, and crafting all manner of meetings, events and strategic retreats designed to help leaders both remain relevant and stay ahead of changing times and trends. In the face of today’s fast-moving, hugely volatile business world and the ongoing disruptions it often brings, it goes without saying: Many organizations and individuals continue to struggle with the concept of innovation. Thankfully, it may help with the process of re-imaging and reinventing your business to be more cutting-edge going forward — and designing programs and events around these themes — to recall that, according to leading experts (and Merriam-Webster’s dictionary), innovation is far simpler than you may suspect. By definition, it’s simply the introduction of something new.
Certainly, innovation often refers to the concept of game-changing, breakthrough discoveries and technologies. But more importantly, as we discovered while researching my new book Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty, it can just as easily refer to new concepts, new marketing strategies or new ways of repositioning your business or brand to be more meaningful or relevant to current and prospective members. As challenging as the concept of innovating often sounds, really, when we’re talking about innovation, we’re merely discussing more creative and resourceful approaches to problem-solving. And, in truth, you may be surprised at just how simple the process of making your organization more agile, more responsive and more competitive is when you come right down to it. In fact, all it often takes for us to be more successful is just a greater sense of perspective — and an immense willingness to make some seemingly simple, but hugely powerful shifts in strategy and thinking.
As the following examples help illustrate:
As they remind us, simple tweaks in strategy and approach can often produce powerful windfalls — and help your organization succeed more frequently and stay better in tune with changing times and trends.
Case Study 1: Association for Chemistry and Economics
Over 15 years old, Germany’s Association for Chemistry and Economics (VCW) has more than 30,000 members. Its population is hugely diverse, spread across many sectors and has myriad goals and interests.
Determined to foster communication among these members to help further the profession, the VCW desired to create a network that would allow participants to collaborate with scientists and engineers in every field to be more successful and raise awareness for the organization. That’s because, in the modern age, it knew teamwork would be key to innovation, and accelerating the speed at which it could adapt would be vital. Partnerships with universities, private industry players, public organizations and allies in other fields such as economics would be crucial to its continuing success. Likewise, the VCW also wanted to find a way to drive ongoing innovation on a huge scale.
As a solution, it invented the idea of Social Chemistry — creating an open online portal for the crowdsourcing of ideas, and pooling of resources, to allow members and interested private and public enterprises to: 1. Suggest new concepts 2. Discuss topics of interest and 3. Access collaboration tools for making cross-company initiatives a reality. Not only did the platform let participants submit and share ideas for new projects — it also allowed them to comment on or vote for winning ideas, team up to participate on these solutions and share suggestions by email. Moderators could also view reports, quickly gauge engagement levels — and easily attach project leaders/contributors, assign deadlines and tasks and send reminders to help fuel creativity. Users could also follow all the latest comments, ideas and messages from contributors, creating a heightened degree of interest in and empathy for any given project.
After five weeks, 11 jury members weighed votes and submissions against four criteria — originality, applicability, feasibility and thoughtfulness of the idea — and winners could potentially see their ideas turned into action. In the wake of these efforts, not only did the number of ideas generated greatly exceed expectation, a significant portion of visitors to the site contributed suggestions, commenting rates were through the roof and the VCW generated a plethora of new initiatives for the industry. It also uncovered important new concepts that the association could build on or encourage members to explore further, and trends the VCW discovered that it needed to be aware of, by undertaking the project.
Case Study 2: Medtronic
When medical device leader Medtronic wanted to expand its already-successful business throughout Western Europe and beyond, it didn’t double-down on cutting-edge devices. It reinvented its business model instead, extending its offerings to include services and establishing new business units that partnered to put owned-and-operated labs inside hospitals.
Medtronic increased its business and provided partners with significant improvements in customer service and cost-savings by doing so. Having earned their trust, it’s also built a sizable business around ancillary services such as supply chain management and performance benchmarking.
Case Study 3: Orange Telecom
French telecom giant Orange wanted to double the size of its innovation initiatives but didn’t want to invest millions in R&D or hordes of high-priced working professionals. Instead, it decided to outsource the entire process and offered APIs — plug-and-play back-end software solutions — to internal employees and external developers so they could create new uses for Orange’s technologies. Using just one of these solutions, the company has been able to seamlessly integrate social and second-screen experiences from hundreds of film and TV companies into many of its services in less than a year.
Case Study 4: Newell Rubbermaid
When Newell Rubbermaid’s Contigo brand wanted to find a way to differentiate its products in the hugely crowded and contested market for portable containers and cups, it didn’t invest a fortune into dozens of abortive product roll-outs, attempting to guess what working professionals on the go would want. It simply studied today’s busiest travel sites, where commuters tended to congregate. After discovering that passengers were constantly wiping off their mugs’ mouthguards on napkins, sleeves and handkerchiefs, it introduced a new line of travel mugs with special covers designed to keep out dirt.
Case Study 5: Mastercard
After deciding it needed a new idea for a mobile payment app, Mastercard didn’t invest millions of dollars or months of time and effort. It simply put the call out to employees at Innovation Express, a global series of hackathon events where business people, designers and software developers team up to create new business plans and products in record time. Two days later, Qkr — which can let you order food from your seat at a stadium or pre-order school lunches for children right from your pocket without ever setting foot in a cafeteria — was born.
As you can see, innovation isn’t always about game-changing breakthroughs or technology. It’s about finding more effective ways to use the tools and resources that are available. While it’s not always obvious to the casual observer, innovation is far easier than you think. All it takes to successfully outmaneuver the competition, or overcome a problem, is simply a greater sense of perspective and an immense willingness to be more creative with how you apply the tools at-hand. I&FMM