Simon Harrow is the COO of, responsible for driving business growth through strategy development and execution.

Simon is also a member of the judging panel for Econsultancy’s Innovation Awards. The deadline for entries is today. 

I’ve been talking to Simon about what makes something innovative, and how companies can encourage innovation…

What makes something innovative?

For me, true innovation lies in creating something that people didn’t realise they needed, until it is provided. Importantly, it then redefines the benchmark by which they judge all other similar applications. 

This I think raises an interesting point. Innovation is short lived. Very quickly a specific innovation becomes a hygiene factor for many businesses.

A case in point would be the innovation and then standardisation of online delivery options. Only a few years ago it was acceptable to offer five working day delivery timescales until the innovation came to offer next working day delivery. 

Now, consumers expect the availability of a next day delivery service and not offering it acts as a barrier to purchase. It has moved from innovation to hygiene in a relatively short period of time. I think the same is happening with mobile offerings in the market today. It is still relatively innovative, but will be expected by consumers within the next twelve to eighteen months. 

It is this shorting of time between innovation and hygiene that will increase the pace of innovation over the coming years. Technical advancements coupled with shifting consumer behavior and an increased rate of adoption means that businesses must consistently look to innovate in order to create competitive advantage. 

Having said that, I think the most exciting form of innovation is best framed by the term ‘applicable innovation’. Often new technical advances are touted as the next game changer but in reality it is applicable innovation that meets a genuine need state that has the most impact. 

In the most exceptional cases of innovation, consumers are not often aware that they need the development until it is presented to them.

At Kiddicare, we don’t ask our customers what they want from us next in terms of innovation. When we have, they often only provide examples of experiences that already exist. In order to truly innovate and create differentiation, we have to pre-empt customer’s needs and provide solutions that shift their expectations in the market. 

How do you foster innovation within your organisation?

I believe this type of innovation comes from a risk adverse viewpoint. If you are going to innovate you have to prepare to fail. However, fail, fail quickly and learn from it.

I completely appreciate that not all businesses have this type of culture through a variety of reasons. However, if this is the case, in order to create innovation it is important that resource, both financial and people, is given to research and development departments so they can operate outside the confines or restrictions of the business.

Every company can build a structure that creates tangible innovation but for it to succeed, it cannot be accountable to the normal rules of the business. This is especially true for financial return.

Instead, the budget for these departments should be written off the day it is allocated, thereby releasing the teams to truly innovate.  

Are most stakeholders happy to go along with innovative ideas, or do you have to work hard to persuade them to take chances?

I think innovation often gets tied up with big ideas. Trying to persuade a business to buy into a large and often complicated innovation is difficult.

However, by creating a state of perpetual beta within a business, constantly looking for small and quick wins, it means that the business will develop innovation much faster and quite importantly across the whole business.

This builds a much more balanced customer offering. Innovation can be developed in delivery, digital interactions, mobile, advertising, customer service, social or product development to name a few.

In fact, innovation can be applied to every aspect of a business; to both external customers and internal colleagues. A key point is to innovate in areas that will drive the most value for the business, not just where others are focusing. 

What are your top innovations for 2011?

Some of the innovations that have caught my attention in 2011 have been Pizza Express’s mobile payment solution and the advancements in delivery options, specifically from Next offering 9pm cut off for next day delivery and the number of companies offering same day delivery.

I am fascinated by the notion that businesses can deliver your goods to you faster than you could get to a physical shop. These innovations in particular have changed the way I personally want to interact with businesses moving forward. 

What do you see as the major trends in digital for the next 12 months?

Over the next twelve months I think we will see huge developments in mobile innovation, specifically tying the online and physical worlds closer together through NFC and more accessible content.

I also believe that strides in single customer view capabilities and the subsequent marketing outputs will see fast paced developments in personalisation. 

One thing I am sure of is the mentality; invest now, be brave and try to create something very special through applicable innovation. The end goal should always be to redefine the way your world operates and anyone is capable of it.