Innovation drives human and economic progress. The invention of the steam engine, the car, and the Internet have become historic events that marked a new era for our society and the global economy. We grew up admiring inventors like Thomas Edison. The light bulb he invented has become a synonym for having an idea. Computer pioneers, such as Grace Hopper, paved the way for our digital society with the first all-electronic digital computer.
Innovation is also the life blood for companies. The technology industry, for example, invests heavily in research and development to stay competitive. In 2018, 22.5 percent of the global research and development spending came from the computing and electronics industry according to Statista.
While the focus on innovation is not new, the innovation process itself is changing. Companies are moving to an open innovation approach. Entrepreneurial thinking is encouraged across the organization, not just in the R&D lab. New products and services are being developed together with customers and partners. Increasingly, these partners include startups.
Innovation has become part of everyone’s job, in startups and corporations alike.
However, innovation can be daunting. It requires a wide range of technical skills, business acumen, industry knowledge, and endurance to bring new products and services to market. Not everyone might harbor hopes of becoming our generation’s Thomas Edison. And frankly, that’s ok. Today’s breakthrough innovations are achieved by large teams, not by a single polymath.
Here are three tips on how to inspire team members to be part of the innovation process in their daily work.
Rethink job routines
“I don’t work in the R&D Lab, I am not a technologist, how can I contribute to innovation in my daily work?” is one of the most frequently asked question by employees about corporate entrepreneurship.
According to serial entrepreneur and investor Barbara Corcoran you need two kinds of people: “expanders and containers. Expanders push the envelope, take risks, & spend money. Containers love detail and plan well.” Companies need both, people with big, visionary ideas and people with excellent execution skills.
Innovation is also a path for professional growth. We are creatures of habits, but habits can be outdated. The innovation process can start with making our own job more productive by analyzing daily routines. Are the existing processes efficient? Is our work delivering the best experience for the customer? Innovation goes beyond the development of product and services, it also happens by improving business operations.
Build a network of innovation partners
It is important to build a network of innovation partners within and outside the company. Many companies already have internal collaboration platforms in place. Employees can use these platforms to propose and vote on innovation projects and form project teams with colleagues from other departments and regions.
Best practices to incentive innovation include the set-up of hackathons and internal innovation awards. The Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award, for example, is the highest employee recognition at SAP that rewards innovative thinking. It is awarded annually by SAP’s CEO Bill McDermott to an individual or a team. With the number of submissions increasing year-by-year, this award is highly competitive, and an inspiration for employees to drive innovation as part of their work.
Another way to become part of the innovation ecosystem is to participate in corporate accelerators, industry incubators or hackathons as a mentor or advisor. Employees can share their expertise, such as Finance or HR, while working with startups on the development of innovative products, services, and business models.
For example, at SAP Labs India, employees can become part of the accelerator program SAP Startup Studio and help early stage companies, housed by the program, to go to market. The collaboration is a unique experience for SAP Labs India employees and startup participants that fuels out-of-the box thinking.
Use customer experience as the measuring stick
According to a PwC study published in Strategy & Business, top performing companies use their R&D investment to create products and services that connect with their customers. The measuring stick for every innovation is the quality of the provided customer experience. This is a great opportunity for customer-facing team members. They can vet the development of new product and services, and the desired customer experience, from the perspective of the customer.
The adoption of new technology products often depends on the convenience and ease of use the new products offer. Convenience and ease of use are also the top attributes for an excellent customer experience. By including customer service team members early on, we can rethink the way we approach business innovation from a customer experience standpoint and make business transformation a more seamless experience.
INSEAD professors and authors of the Blue Ocean Strategy, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, suggest to dispel the myth that innovation has to be disruptive. Instead they encourage striking a balance between disruptive and non-disruptive creation.
By getting everyone involved in the innovation process, we can unleash an entire new dimension of products, services, business models, and ultimately, customer experiences. And, best of all, putting on the innovator’s hat can be an eye-opener. It allows us to see new opportunities, we did not see before.