Unlock innovation in your business

 

Unlocking innovation and driving it through to successful commercialisation is vital for business success says David Walker, co-founder of Happen.

David Walker is the CEO and Founding Partner of Happen, one of the UK’s leading innovation agencies. Describing himself as a ‘master innovator’, David works with leading global brands and credits the agency with delivering incremental value of $4bn for its clients to date.

David Walker

David Walker at a glance

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Innovation is as important today as it’s ever been, but two things have changed. Firstly, the speed that everything’s moving at and secondly, that knowledge is no longer the preserve of the government, institutions and big business – it belongs to everybody. If you put those two factors together, we have a world in which ideas are copied and usurped in the blink of an eye. Businesses need to focus on building the capability to innovate into an integrated business process.

Most business leaders know that innovation is important. Most can see that everything is moving very quickly. The more in line ones can see that they are no longer able to control knowledge or hold it to themselves. Do businesses understand how to move quickly and how to build continuous innovation into their businesses? I think probably not. That’s where the difficulty lies – in knowing how to do it, how to channel it and how to keep it alive.

How to create innovation success

Innovation is an odd ball in the business world, in the sense that there is no set, fixed process, no magic recipe you can follow to make it work. What makes our approach unique is our four key pillars system – when you do those four things right, you increase your chance of success with innovation.

  1. Start with the right innovation challenge – define whether it’s process, product or service innovation. Is it game-changing? Is it within your power as an individual or does it need buy-in? What are the capabilities of the business – are we brilliant at R&D or at getting things to market? If it’s R&D, then perhaps a long-term strategy is best. If it’s speed, then innovation focused on ‘follow fast and improve’ is more appropriate.
  2. Focus on customer insights you can do something with – fixing a customer need that’s meaningful. Uber is the perfect example. It’s transformed the end to end experience of taking a private hire vehicle – it’s solved a real customer need. We all had that appalling old world mini cab experience. It fell short in so many different ways, but it became so ingrained in culture that we stopped paying attention to it as a problem. One of the hallmarks of great innovators is being able to spot those needs that are being met sub-optimally.
  3. Create winning ideas that can be commercially exploited – this is about taking that insight that has birthed the idea and testing against the capabilities of your business. Do you have time and resources to deliver on the idea? It’s as much about being ruthless at this stage as it is about creativity.
  4. Energise your business into action – build belief in people, tell stories, set fire to the platform you’re on. Build prototypes that people can put in their hand. Use data in the way your organisation believes in to test the idea. Make it real.

There is an element of culture involved. If there’s anything holding the UK back, it’s our slightly understated Britishness. Don’t get me wrong, the UK has achieved amazing things, our economy is performing well globally and the outlook is promising. But I don’t think that the self-confidence of British business necessarily matches our capability, our creativity, our ability to deliver innovation and I think that can be limiting in terms of our belief in our ability to deliver. If we can overcome that, the sky is the limit.

Innovation’s growth potential

The potential for growth through innovation is tremendous. If we look again at Uber, for example, it went from a private hire firm in San Francisco to a fifty billion dollar valuation in less than five years. It operates in 68 countries and more than 350 cities. No-one can deny that they’ve innovated successfully and that that has delivered stunning shareholder growth.1

Innovation is not just limited to the tech sphere. Proctor & Gamble (P&G) took on the crowded washing powder market in the US in a well-publicised example where innovation was the single most important factor in driving growth of an age-old brand in a crowded market, from twelve to almost $24 billion dollars. Tide had been around for 50 years but was no longer growing. P&G, a renowned leader in innovation, spending around $2bn each year on R&D, transformed the brand, creating product extensions including new fragrances and stain release detergent. Tide then dominated the shelves.2

But innovation doesn’t have to be game-changing. Incremental innovation is absolutely critical. In fact, if you’re not doing that incremental innovation then you’re heading to the graveyard before too long. It doesn’t have to be shattering news. Smart, commercial, well thought through innovation is still built on real insight you can do something with.

Unlock innovation in your business

There are myopic businesses in every sector, which are not prepared to think big enough about innovation or not prepared to revaluate what they’re doing to focus on surviving this year. To unlock innovation and make it a key part of your business strategy, businesses need to:

  1. Build innovation vision into the overall company vision.
  2. Take a walk into the future and see just how quickly the platform you’re on starts to burn.
  3. Cascade that down into people’s objectives and KPIs – so they’re motivated to innovate.
  4. Create intangible rewards that praise innovative thinking.

If you get the vision right, the KPIs right, the incentives and the rewards right and there’s a consistent message from the leadership, then the business will figure out the process of delivering innovation for itself. You don’t need to design it, it will just flow.

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