will be hosting our 2012 Innovation Awards at the Park Lane Hilton in London this evening.

In the run-up to the glittering award ceremony, we’ve been speaking to our shortlisted candidates to get their take on all aspects of innovation in business.

We’ve looked at fostering the right kind of environment to get those ideas flowing, budgeting make sure plans don’t impact your bottom line, and looked back at some great ideas to help get you inspired.

Of course, even a great idea can be outdone. The industry has never advanced as quickly as it does today, with some truly awe-inspiring ideas rolling out every day.

With all this competition to factor in, we thought we’d close our series by asking our nominees about keeping ahead of the innovation curve.

With so many innovative changes taking place, how can businesses stay ahead of the curve?

As usual we had a huge range of responses, but several common themes emerged. Just like other areas of your business, making sure you push winning ideas to market is all about research, planning and procedure – not to mention learning from your mistakes. 

Be agile and adaptive

Chris Gorell Barnes, founder and CEO at Adjust Your Set

It’s not about staying ahead of the curve, but doing what’s right for the business, and clients, that drives value and has a return on investment. Companies shouldn’t be afraid to abandon an idea if it doesn’t work. Having an agile and adaptive approach to bring the smaller innovations together into the next big thing will stand businesses apart from the crowd.” 

Simon Swan, online marketing at Met Office:

Innovation is a key part of developing an agile organisation that is able to keep changing and adapting itself.  A team that understands the potential impacts of emerging technology, evidence based approaches with high quality analysis all play their part in developing agility and retaining an innovative culture.”

Incentivise and encourage at all levels

Michael Steckler from Criteo: 

Hiring the right people is one of the most effective things you can do. Make sure you listen closely to employees at all levels and make sure they have the time, incentives and ability to share their ideas. You need to have a clear goal, be outwardly focused and agile enough to respond to change.  And always talk to your customers.  Investing in the right talent is also really important.  People who can do the job but also understand the wider landscape will help businesses adapt and grow.  

Apple’s head designer, Jonathan Ive was considering leaving Apple before Jobs returned and saw his potential.  Facebook is another great example of a company that has heavily invested in talent.  Not only have they managed to attract some of the best engineering talent in Silicon Valley, but Facebook’s M&A strategy has also been largely talent-driven. Regardless of how companies go about doing it – whether it’s through M&A, corporate venture capital or other means – collaborating with startups and paying attention to the various innovations taking place in the digital arena is definitely necessary to stay ahead of the curve.”

Rob Shaw, MD at Epiphany:

Build space for innovation, keep people excited about new ideas and reward people who find new ways of doing things.” 

Seth Richardson, CEO at DC Storm:

Hire well, and reward and celebrate innovation and change.”

Alex Kelleher, founder and CEO at Cognitive Match:

If you know people leading the charge, speak to them rather than relying on the media. They often will give you the insight and edge that the media lacks.” 

Learn from your history

Luke Griffiths, GM UK at e-Dialog:

Staying ahead of the curve is all about learning from previous campaigns, and identifying areas for improvement, and not just from your own campaigns. Often seeing the success of others can spark ideas for your brand.  

It’s also about fostering a culture of collaboration, where new ideas are shared with peers and where the team is encouraged to work with colleagues and clients to try something new and test the limits of what is possible.”

Finally, make sure you are working on new ideas for the right reason. Your ideas should solve a problem. There’s nothing wrong with trying out outlandish new ideas and building pieces of tech for fun, but there should be a long term business goal behind your innovation.

Chris Ezekiel from Creative Virtual Ltd:

With so many innovative changes taking place, it’s important for companies to have a good method in place for assessing/testing/deciding which ones they are going to adopt; there’s a real danger of something being adopted only to discover it was a passing fad, and organisations constantly chasing their tails. Instilling a culture where employees are keen to embrace news ideas and take calculated risks, whilst at the same time keeping a close eye on the market in general, as well as the competition – and always looking to the long terms business objectives – are key points to making sure the business is best placed to take advantage of new ideas.” 

Don’t be afraid to fail 

Francesca Underhill, head of communications at Naked Wines:

Don’t worry too much about what your competitors are up to. Focus on what makes your company unique and listen and respond to what your customers are telling you.” 

Alastair Cole, head of creative services at Essence Digital:

Have a go! Be innovative for a moment. All businesses have itches that need scratching: staff car park, summer party, filing system issues. Attack these problems with a different mind-set.”  

We’d like to thank everyone who took part in this series, we hope their insights have helped fuel your ideas, and we’d love to see some of them entered for next year’s awards!

In the meantime, you can visit our events page to see this year’s full shortlist, and download the Econsultancy Innovation Report to keep up to date with everything new in the industry.