Innovation is the new Holy Grail as companies strive to maintain a competitive edge – and some are realising that their best creative resources are right under their nose.
Rather than relying solely on their research and development departments, senior executives are tapping into creativity throughout their organisations. They are also recognising the need to embrace radical innovation, rather than just tinkering around the edge of their business.
Doing things differently
“Radical innovation turns the basic assumptions about how a market space works on their head,” creative strategist Mo Fox says. “So it’s not about doing better what we already do, it’s about doing it differently.”
It’s no coincidence that the best radical innovators are household names such as Google and Amazon. But while not everyone can be a Richard Branson or a Steve Jobs, everyone can foster an environment in which creativity can thrive. And while maverick geniuses tend to hog the limelight, teams and networks are vital to generating cutting-edge ideas.
In Australia, radical innovation is still relatively rare, according to Fox. She recalls how Apple “cannibalised” its own laptops when it produced the iPad. “Radical innovation means disrupting your own business model, and most big companies are not willing to do that,” Fox says. “That’s why radical innovation comes more out of the garages and start-ups – they’ve got nothing to lose.”
The big players recognise, however, that this is an era of rapidly shifting trends and increasingly competitive global markets. They understand the need to be more agile and innovative to stay ahead of the game and grow their businesses.
Corporate thought leader Gary Bertwistle urges companies to unlock their existing resources. “Innovation and creativity are not just for the select few,” he says. “The people you’re already paying have got killer ideas. They’re driving forklifts, they’re fixing shelves, they’re processing payrolls, they’re sitting at reception.”
To empower these people requires cultural change, and that has to start at the top, according to Bertwistle. “The chief executive needs to buy into it and be passionate about it.”
Start at the top
Capturing the creativity inherent across your organisation is often a matter of creating spaces and times when people know they have the freedom to actually be creative according to Bertwistle and other innovation and creativity specialists. In some cases organisations can integrate creativity into business as usual, but in most instances it involves removing people from the usual work environment, creating combinations from different departments and skills sets, and breaking down hierarchies.
Taking people out of their comfort zone through creative festivals such as AMP’s Amplify, executive retreats, or off-sites in creative space are all mechanisms which can help to tap into corporate creativity which already exists within an organization.
The next challenge, he says, is to convince all the C-level executives to take part in, and support the creative process. They then need to formulate a philosophy – Bertwistle cites Nintendo chief Satoru Niwata’s “the impossible is possible” – and progressively “percolate” this down to every single team.
“Innovation and creativity are not just for the select few. The people you’re already paying have got killer ideas. They’re driving forklifts, they’re fixing shelves, they’re processing payrolls, they’re sitting at reception.”– Gary Bertwistle, innovation and creativity expert
Fox has seen some Australian companies, such as CGU Insurance and Westpac Banking Corp, encourage an innovative ethos to develop incrementally.
“CGU had one or two people scattered throughout the organisation with a brief to make people think more creatively,” she says. “They started running small projects, figuring out what worked, finding and training as many open-minded people as possible. It’s still not something everyone does or has to do, but it’s spreading in a quite organic way.”
Bertwistle sees curiosity as crucial. “Some of the best business leaders didn’t have all the great ideas, but they had the great questions,” he says. “They posed the question then they stepped out of the way and let their people do their best work.”
Get people talking
Fox stresses the value of informal networking – people bumping into each other and having random conversations that spark new ideas, or help such ideas to evolve. “That’s why Pixar, which is among the best radical innovators, put its bathrooms right in the middle,” she says.
It’s important to give people the space to experiment and fail, rather than trying to mitigate risk and get things right first time, says Fox. And newborn ideas, which are fragile, need to be protected “so the system doesn’t eat them before they have a chance to draw breath”.
These principles, Fox says, “are translatable to any service or product development industry, because it’s an approach, it’s not a methodology”.
- Innovation and creativity are critical to keeping a competitive edge and growing a business
- Radical innovation means doing something completely new, rather than improving on what you do already
- There is creativity in every corner of an organisation – it just needs to be empowered and unlocked
- Informal networks play a key role in the creative process
- It is important to reward experimentation and not punish failure.