Practical Ideas for Leading Innovation
by Neil Love
leading innovation
        "Innovation in this world is the best way to win - arguably the only way to really win."
                                                                - A.G. Lafley, CEO of Procter & Gamble

We've all heard the saying, "If we keep doing what we've done, we'll keep getting what we've got." Management research shows repeatedly the best way to create sustainable value for our customers is through continuous innovation. We're currently facing some of the most formidable business challenges most of us have ever experienced. Tight credit markets, global competition, productivity losses, high unemployment, stock market losses---every day new stories of doom and gloom.

Formidable challenges ahead
Think about it. Whatever we've done to get us in this position is likely not a recipe for success moving forward. If we keep doing the same things and operate the same way, we will not be adapting to the formidable challenges ahead and the incredibly dynamic global markets we are facing. Worse yet, we will not be capitalizing on the untapped intelligence and experience that lies within our organizations.

Nothing in life is static---sustainable growth demands that we continuously change and re-invent our companies and ourselves to provide the highest possible value for our customers, employees and shareholders. If we aren't continuously looking for new ways to make it easier for our customers to do business with us, someone else will.

Breaking entrenched patterns of thinking and behaving is always a work in progress. It's easy to say, "We will be more innovative and provide more value to customers." However, doing it is another matter. How can leaders tap the innovation potential in their organizations to seize new opportunities for revenue and profit growth? Here are ten ideas to help you make it happen.

Innovation Success Tips

1. Aggressively Avoid Denial. You can't afford a staff that has not internalized the real threats of 2009. Shake up the troops! Attack complacency. Widely broadcast expected market conditions and the implications for your company. Create "burning platforms" to drive home a real sense of urgency.
2. Create an Innovation Mindset. Be a role model in thinking out of the box. Encourage and reward smart, new thinking. Foster more ideas for reducing costs and generating new revenue. More importantly, make innovation matter by recognizing and rewarding smart actions.
3. Focus on Your Best Customers. Who are the customers that buy the most, allow you the highest profit margins, are easy to work with, and tend to be innovative? Ask them what their biggest concerns are for 2009 and what can you do differently that would help them innovate and be successful.
4. Harvest the Wisdom of Your Brightest. Get your high potentials at all levels in the room and creatively facilitate brainstorming on how your company can decrease costs, improve productivity and increase sales-and be able to implement within 90 days.
5. Capture Lessons Learned. Identify every key process or type of project that is vital to success in 2009. Find out what has been key to success, what is good but could be better and what is hurting success and what to do about it. Then instill disciplines to make sure the "lessons learned" are leveraged throughout your organization.
6. Dive into the "White Space." Find the hidden gems for increasing revenue and reducing costs in the "white spaces" between the company's departments, between sites/geographies and between the company and suppliers, the company and customers and the company and partner companies.
7. Knock Down the Silos. Silos are the enemy of innovation. They slow things down, create waste, inefficiencies and rework. They cause sub-optimal decisions, solutions, products and services. Measure your managers and employees on how well they collaborate across the company to provide better value to customers, as well as faster and for less money.
8. Read "Blue Ocean Strategy." It can help transform your mind. The core of the book's message is - create a service or product that does not exist that provides things that customers highly value and at a price they will pay. And, design the business model so it is low cost and therefore inherently high value. Click here for a quick overview of the book.
9. Insist on Leadership. Broaden the responsibilities of every manager to include customer satisfaction and being the champion of customer focused improvements in products, services and business processes.
10. Leverage Outside Resources. Don't fall into the trap of rigid polices about no external spending. Think ROI rather than just outlay of expenditure. Admit you need and can really benefit from objective, neutral outside help. Outsiders can get more candid input, provide proven tools, align your management team on the best path forward and accelerate progress....especially if you have bandwidth issues.

We believe that the nimble, the innovative and the customer focused organizations will not only cope in this economic environment, but thrive. Innovate and thrive!
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