Apple’s founder Steve Jobs said that ‘Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower’. That philosophy might explain why the tech giant just earned itself a 2019 price tag of $205.5 billion, retaining top place for nine straight years in the annual Forbes list of the world’s most valuable brands.
Companies heading that list – Apple, Google, Facebook, Coca-Cola – all have innovation at their core. They delivered something new before we even knew we wanted it. But in the push to foster originality in a fast changing world, innovation consultant Dr Amantha Imber says organisations may be killing innovation without even realising it.
Event manager Antony Hampel acknowledges this is the kind of thought leadership which is the beating heart of his event management company, Alive. Doing things differently is the very ethos behind why Hampel and his team have staged more than 1000 events for 300 brands over 25 years.
“We believe the experience is everything and you don’t get that if you’re thinking inside the box. Innovation is who we are and what we do. We’re keenly aware of how important it is to ensure ideas, creativity and experimentation aren’t idling in neutral, that we’re doing the right things in the right order to drive each of our events into top gear.”
As the author of The Innovation Formula, Dr Imber outlines common mistakes which almost every organisation makes when it comes to innovation. Hampel thinks these strategies, which are based on scientific research by the organisational psychologist, are powerful cues for building a culture of innovation. By identifying these six innovation killers, organisations can create work environments where innovation blooms – opening the door to new ideas that might inspire valuable and positive change.
Don’t start with an idea
Dr Imber says innovation doesn’t just start with an idea. The staff suggestion box and blue sky brainstorming workshops where ‘the sky is the limit for ideas’ isn’t always the best way to bring innovation into your business. In fact, it can be wasteful. Where is the customer in that approach?
Where is the research that identifies what challenges you’re facing? What are the actual market conditions you need to address? Unless you’ve asked those questions, generating ideas can take you completely off track. The greatest opportunity for innovation lies in customer research. Once you’ve done that, then you can start generating ideas that may just provide solutions to your problems.
Don’t implement ideas too quickly
Moving too quickly with an exciting new idea can be tempting, but it can be a costly mistake says Dr Imber. Organisations need to experiment first, before moving straight to implementation.
Explore why and how an idea might add value to your customers. Companies like Airbnb, and Google often embrace experimentation as a key stage in their innovation strategy. It’s the best way to reduce the risk of introducing change, giving your company time to evaluate the success of a new function or service.
Don’t expect everyone to be a natural innovator
We’d love to think we’re all creative, but the fact is that not everyone is a “born” innovator. Some people just need to learn the skills. Dr Imber says instead of assuming every staff member will be a natural creative thinker and problem solver, invest in professional training and coaching to pave the way forward for innovation. Ant Hampel adds that, “Knowledge gives power, but imagination can be more powerful than knowledge – so when those seeds are planted together, innovation can grow.”
Don’t shelve innovation when there’s a crisis
When profits are down or you’re facing new competition or disruption technology, ‘discretionary spending’ is often the first thing to go. But while this might be smart in the short term, companies that go the distance are the ones who are looking to the future. Dr Imber gives an example in her book about two bold moves from Proctor and Gamble and Apple. In 2001, the NASDAQ was down 30 per cent and yet Proctor and Gamble launched Crest White Strips and Apple launched the iPod.
So, don’t throw innovation out the window when things get tough. Your future customers are as important as your existing customer. Keep innovation at the forefront even when your present conditions might be bleak.
Don’t reward but not recognise
Research into pay-for-performance reward systems has revealed that often financial reward for achieving targets stops employees from continuing to be successful. One study showed that some people became obsessed by repeating their past success and began to fear trying something new. Dr Imber says when people try to avoid risk, creativity falls by the wayside. Innovation demands risk, and often several failures before the break though idea. Rather than offering monetary reward, recognise innovation in other ways like awards ceremonies to crown the Innovator of the Year.
Don’t tolerate leaders who won’t walk the talk
Ant Hampel says as a CEO, he recognises it’s important to be authentic about leadership – for him to be setting the exampling by being a thinker himself and taking an active role in supporting innovation across all of their projects.
“There’s no point in asking my entire team to be creative thinkers, if I’m not also willing to push those boundaries myself,” says Hampel.
Hampel says research by innovation psychologists such as Dr Imber are a lesson to every CEO that senior leaders need to walk the talk when it comes to creating a company culture of innovation.
“It’s not enough just to push money towards that development, you have to lead by example.” As one of Australia’s most celebrated event marketers, Ant Hampel heeds that call to move innovation to the top of the priority list of your business values.
“Einstein told us ‘If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.’ And who wants a rehash. Boring. Derivative. Tired. Don’t be a hack. Switch your light bulbs on people. Innovation is the new black and once you’ve experienced success born of ingenuity, there’s no going back.”
Antony Hampel rates some of the best examples of innovation showcased by his Alive Event Agency
- A ‘Back To The Future’ theme with a ‘Delorean’ on stage for Fred IT Group’s 25th Gala Dinner
- Having world champion ironman Trevor Hendy as a motivation speaker at The Sunglass Hut festival style conference Face the Sun Summit
- To promote the Fitzy & Wippa Radio show and the return of Big Brother, we organised a Lock a Contest Winner up in a shop window for 17 days
- For client Voltaren during Pain Management Week, we set a new Guinness World Record for the world’s largest fit ball class