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Think Innovation is about product – think again

Date added: 23rd Oct 2014
Category: Innovation Culture

Quite simply, innovation is an all encompassing 21st C imperative. True innovation infuses every part of the organisation, it drives differentiation and outstanding customer service, it is a by-product of being exceptional and it is the key to success or failure in a world in which every organisation can access the same technology.

69% of UK corporates name innovation in their top three priorities and yet 53% of UK executives say that although their board regularly talks about innovation, no-one really knows what it means. It’s not really surprising.  For decades innovation and invention have been virtually interchangeable in the business lexicon.  It is only now when business imperatives are looking towards a new culture in which the ‘how’, the provision of customer excellence, has replaced pure product as the differentiator that the ideals arising from a culture of innovation have come to the fore.

So let’s get some things clear at the outset.  Innovation isn’t just about having an idea about a product which will change the world.  Nor is it the preserve of a few ‘boffins’ sitting in an odd corner of the building and eating pizza as they scrawl strange and incomprehensible formulae on the walls.  Most importantly, innovation is not a ‘nice to have provided we can spare the time’ ideal.

Quite simply, innovation is an all encompassing 21st C imperative.  True innovation infuses every part of the organisation, it drives differentiation and outstanding customer service, it is a by-product of being exceptional and it is the key to success or failure in a world in which every organisation can access the same technology.

But despite all of this, despite the commercial and reputational advantages to be gained from innovation, businesses are still putting up barriers to innovation; effectively killing it stone dead before they even start.  And when it comes to an industry such as financial services, regulation is one barrier which is perceived to be insurmountable.   But my answer to any organisation is that whilst regulation is part of business life, that doesn’t mean that business life stops with regulation.

Yes every business has to cope with regulation just as every business has to manage with the technology which is around at the time.  But these are baselines, and once you accept that these baselines are common to all, you can then move onward towards innovation and towards providing an exceptional level of service which differentiates you from others in your industry.  In fact the Financial Services Sector is lucky in that it benefits from having one strong advocate on the side of innovation and that is the regulator itself.  In a speech at the Mansion House FCA Chief Executive Martin Wheatley gave a commitment to support innovation, to “opening our doors to those – regulated and not – who come with new ideas about how to deliver financial services.”

So innovation is not simply about product, it is also about delivery, about experiences and systems and people and in fact the entire ethos of the organisation.  This does require a different approach to business and a focus on areas that drive innovation behaviour and allow the organisation to operate in a changing world.  Becoming a Next Generation Organisation requires an increased focus on Insight, on Agility and on Collaboration.

And the key question which leaders seeking innovation differentiation should ask themselves comes from Steve Ridgway, the former CEO of Virgin Atlantic, namely “what will make us unique.” There is no magic bullet answer but by building towards the Next generation Organisation ideal, by rising above the shackles of regulation you will find that once innovation is out of the bag and infusing every person and every process your business can soar into a stronger future.

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