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Innovation-Awards-LogoIn yesterday's post, we took a quick top-down look at what innovation meant to some of the businesses who’ve made it onto the shortlist for our Innovation Awards this year. 

While opinions differed greatly about what makes innovation, everyone we spoke to agreed that businesses need to push boundaries in order to grow and thrive in the current climate. 

Our respondents work across a huge variety of sectors, from start-ups to multinational, but they’ve all managed to integrate practical, innovative ideas into their business.

We know you don’t read the Econsultancy blog for esoteric opinions, so today we’re looking more closely at how they managed this, by asking: 

How do you build an innovative company, or foster innovation within your organisation?

1. Define your objectives

Sri SharmaAs with any area of business, having an initial strategy in place is incredibly important. However many great ideas you have, if they don’t fit with your ultimate business goals then you won’t see a return on your efforts.  

Every company needs to decide what innovation means to them, and prioritise projects and investment accordingly. Sri Sharma from Net Media Planet told us: 

First everyone has to have a clear vision of what innovation means for the company. From that, time and effort, starting right from the top, needs to be dedicated to pushing creativity, testing and ultimately innovation. 

Ambarish Mitra, the CEO of Blippar echoed this sentiment, but points out that it’s important not to dismiss left-field ideas out of hand: 

We as a company have a united vision with each person contribute in their roles to reach the milestones and keeping the integrity of the vision. We are very research and development heavy as a business where failure is an option.

The business is run in a very transparent fashion where each person is encouraged to pursue own micro ideas and even disagree with the business where necessary.

2. Structure your efforts

In fact, the majority of those asked believed that innovation could come from anywhere, and in order to be most useful, you shouldn’t attempt to limit who can contribute or where an idea can come from, but this does need some structure and leadership in order to be effective. 

Jonathan Cook, Head of New Media at Valtech:

Bringing different but similar perspectives together enables you to make innovative leaps. We try to let people with different skill-sets and backgrounds look at a problem from their angle, often using analogies from solutions to problems in other business verticals. It is important to support the innovation process with resources, understand that it takes some time to implement and not ask for a return on investment too soon.

Simon Mansell, CEO of TBG Digital:

For us there doesn’t have to be process around innovation. We’re an inclusive business and would never want to limit anyone. We have an email address (ideas@tbgdigital.com) which any employee can use to send their thoughts and ideas to. These ideas could be complete or just the start of something new.  

Either way, we listen, digest and always respond. If the idea shows promise, we’ll get the relevant people involved in the project. However, we do think innovation has to be led by someone – committees are notoriously bad at innovation.  Someone has to be responsible for the final decision of what to invest in. 

Structuring your approach correctly can work both ways, allowing innovation to flourish without disrupting day-to-day business.

Bobby Healy is CTO for Car Trawler, an online car hire affiliate system and booking engine. He explains: 

You have to separate the operational aspects of the company from the creative / forward thinking parts. It’s easy to think of lots of innovative ideas and products but to actually execute on them is difficult. Often, the day to day improvements/efficiencies of a business starve the available resources and you need to place a strong emphasis on the value of innovating to the longer term prospects of the company.

It’s the innovation you make today that builds on and protects the revenue two to three years from now. If you don’t get that right, you reach the top of the revenue curve earlier than you should.

3. Give credit where it’s due

Encouraging employees and allowing them the freedom to explore ideas is a great start, but it’s also important to give them a reason to share. 

Glen Conybeare and Paul Huggett from marketing agency Stickyeyes emphasised the importance of incentives.

According to Glen:

Make it everyone’s job but put someone in charge to drive opportunities forward. That’s what we have done at Stickyeyes. We encourage ideas throughout the whole organisation, offering various incentives including profit share, one person has the role of turning the better ideas into viable, commercially focused business opportunities.

Paul believes 'thinking time' is vital:

As well as the above, consider that good innovative ideas can come from anywhere; from family and friends right through to clients. It’s important to step away from the day to day delivery grind and make time to have general catch ups with people with no specific aim other than to ‘chew the fat’. 

4. Size doesn’t matter

Innovation isn’t the sole preserve of agile start-ups, or of huge companies with matching R&D budgets. Ideas are always valuable and should be given a chance.

Alan K. Paterson is European Marketing Director for Farnell element14, a large company that encourages innovation at all levels: 

Innovation for us is embedded across all areas of the business. It is a key differentiator for us and our customers, which is why we have a vibrant culture of innovation ranging from industry leading leadership ideas like the element14 community to simple process improvements.

We have an 'innovation exchange' housed on our company intranet where employees globally can propose new ideas and suggested which are then reviewed by a representative team and prioritised on merit, investigated and frequently implemented. Earlier this year our employees globally voted on the top ranking 20 ideas and selected 5 for us to implement. Everyone who is a part of our business is involved in innovation.

5. Don’t be afraid to fail

Finally, it’s important to take setbacks in your stride. Not every idea can be chocolate covered gold (and for the optimists out there, remember that plenty of great discoveries were accidents).

If at first you don’t succeed, it’s not the end of the world. A number of candidatesmentioned the importance of learning from your mistakes. 

Charlie Rowan, Founder of social bookmarking tool Whishin:

I think it is important to not get in a panic about making mistakes. When trying something new it is important to listen and learn from what has happened. If I can make sure this value is part of my organisation, future employees will feel less inhibited about voicing innovative thoughts and trying them out.

David Loughnan, MD at Clicked Creative:

Innovation shouldn’t be a department or a job title within an organisation, but rather an intrinsic part of company culture. At Clicked Creative we promote innovation by being positive about everyone’s ideas right across the company.

It’s inevitable that some ideas might not make the cut, but we make sure we explore all ideas and only make exclusions with valid reason and explanation.

In our next post, we’ll look at the financial implications of business innovation, including assigning budgets and getting stakeholders to support ideas. 

How have you fostered innovative change and development in your own business? Is innovation a core business component or simply a matter of course? We’d love to hear your ideas and methods in the comments. 

Econsultancy’s Innovation Awards will be presented in London on the 23rd of February. You can book a table for the awards ceremony, and view this year's entire shortlist by clicking here

We’re sure it’ll be a great party, and to make sure we’re dancing all night, remember to add your tracks to our Awards Spotify Playlist

Matt Owen

Published 8 February, 2012 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

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Comments (1)

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Gareth Holt, Head of Technology at London & Partners

Interesting post. I believe that to build an innovation culture takes leadership, skills and effort. It's unreasonable to expect innovation just to happen because you provide a mailbox for "new ideas". There seems to be plenty of evidence that real innovation doesn't come from silos, so collaboration is critical to make it succeed. Allowing failures and learning from them is also key to keeping the ideas coming. If people think they will be blamed or penalised for failure, then they will tend to go for the safe option.Incentivising collaborative efforts will help to foster the right climate for innovation to take place.

over 4 years ago

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