When we think of innovation, we often think of the big breakthroughs that disrupted traditional markets. We think of completely new product range or services that make our customers go crazy for and wildly abandon our competitors.
We also think of innovation costs in various forms, from actual dollars and cents to internal impact on the organisation and existing customer base.
But nothing can be further from the truth.
These fears are built mostly around the idea of a ‘big bang innovation’. The reality is that innovation happens in much smaller, faster and more targeted doses.
This means that businesses of all size and shape — from the corner store to the enterprise — can make big changes in their business by thinking small repeatedly.
Six ways to establish a rapid innovation cycle:
1. Think small
Thinking big comes with risks as well as rewards. Don’t discount the “big idea” — just break it up into smaller, achievable steps with outcomes that can be measured and validated quickly. Eric Ries, author of the The Lean Startup calls this a minimum viable product.
2. Think fast
Rather than innovating some time in the future, think sooner and faster. What can you do in the next month? What new product can you bring out before the end of financial year? Set yourself an innovation date, and work to bring something new to market quickly.
3. Think customers
While we like to surprise our customers with something new, they also like to be involved in the product development process. Find a way to invite them into some aspect of your innovation cycle. Solicit ideas. Get feedback. Check reviews and already completed surveys. Amazingly, giving customers what they want makes them happy — and happy customers spend more.
4. Measure what works
Too often we try something but focus only on getting an innovation to market. It’s vitally important to spend time deciding what success looks like. Does it capture your customers’ attention? Does it sell? Does it open up new markets? Does it promote cross-sell opportunities? Does it change the dynamic between you and your competitors?
5. Create an innovation framework
Too often we overvalue the negative elements of innovation without properly and consistently assessing the positive impacts of innovation. One of the simplest and easiest frameworks for assessing innovation is SWOT analysis. Document the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for each innovation project. Re-assess this regularly.
6. Rinse and repeat
The idea behind an innovation framework is building innovation into the way that you do business. Even if something doesn’t turn out to be the raging success you had dreamt of, you will have learned something important. Cycle that learning back into your business and innovate again.
The more you experiment and learn from innovation, the more likely you are to be successful. Most likely you already have plenty of ideas of where to start. Choose one idea that you love and pursue it. And remember, your competitors are trying to out-innovate you too. Establishing an innovation cycle is not a luxury anymore — it’s the cost of staying in the game.