Innovation: It’s a buzz word in business circles at the moment but what does it actually mean in practice? In particular, does it have any relevance for smaller and fast-growing businesses? Isn’t innovation really just about inventing stuff and isn’t that just the preserve of big business and people in white coats?
I’ll let you into a secret. One of the reasons that innovation has become so important in recent years is precisely because of the way in which small businesses and entrepreneurs are changing the business landscape. Small, and particularly fast-growing businesses, are packed full of people with great ideas who are looking to make a difference. They have none of the legacy systems of long established large businesses which require every idea to grind upwards and downwards through multiple layers of permissioning. There are far more likely to work in an integrated team structure with everyone pitching in as required. And they are far more likely to be close to their customers, looking to deliver products and services which people actually need rather than simply trying to sell.
In short, small businesses are already well on their way to delivering on the three main characteristics of innovative businesses, namely; intelligence, collaboration and adaptability. Go back a couple of decades and that wouldn’t have mattered much to big business. Small businesses worked in their own local or niche marketplaces, leaving larger businesses to work on a national or international scale.
Then came the internet, potentially opening up the world to every business. All of a sudden it was no longer necessary to have a physical presence in order to trade. By leveraging social media and internet technology, businesses were able to interact with clients on the other side the globe as easily as those in the next street. And because small businesses were more agile, they were doing things which were disrupting large organisations in ways that would have been unthinkable before the internet age.
In tandem with the internet revolution came a social revolution which saw people moving away from simply accepting products which were sold to them, instead looking for products and services which provided real solutions. This moved the emphasis from invention (the process of introducing something new or different) to innovation which looked to solve genuine problems, add real value to the customer and drive growth for the creator. Large organisations realise they need to change and that building a culture of innovation was the only way forward if they were to meet small business disruptors at their own game.
However, whilst the talk in the boardroom was all about the importance of innovation, there was a problem. Business leaders simply didn’t know how to go about transforming their culture to one of innovation which embraced intelligence, collaboration and adaptability. Addressing this problem was the driving force behind the writing of Building a Culture of Innovation, a book which has been shortlisted for the CMI Management book of the year award.
The book’s authors combined their experience of design, innovation, culture change, leadership and employee engagement to set out a practical six step framework for placing innovation at the core of a business. Starting with developing an understanding of where a business is today, the book moves on through building an innovation leadership team and designing the future before showing businesses how they can embed a lasting culture of innovation.
Along the way the book looks at areas such as employee engagement and the importance of communication; as well as demonstrating the way in which values and competencies can help to drive the strategy. The book is packed with examples and case studies and those who buy it also have access to an online suite of resources which the authors intend to add to over time.
So is the book just for large organisations? Absolutely not! For a start if small businesses want to continue beating large organisations at their own game then they have to stay one step ahead of them and this book will help. But even if that were not the case Building a Culture of Innovation has something to say to any business which is looking to develop its strategy, engage its employees or simply build a more innovative future.
As the book says the “levelling of playing fields is challenging larger more established organisations in ways that they would never have expected a few years ago.” They are having to reinvent themselves, to meet entrepreneurs on level terms and to match them in the flexibility stakes; in the process creating a workforce as capable, agile, empowered and engaged as that seen in entrepreneurial businesses. The innovation revolution started with smaller businesses, Building a Culture of Innovation will help them to keep driving that change forward.
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