What is innovation? While business leaders agree it is essential to future growth and survival, they do not necessarily agree on its definition. Trouble is, there’s no single method, tool or product that an innovator can introduce that will lead to a breakthrough, and there’s no single quality that an innovator must possess to be successful. And yet being innovative — creating extraordinary change and finding unexpected solutions — is the key to unlocking the future of any business.
“Innovation is being disruptive, and doing things differently to help your customer and business,” says CEO of Nitrous Effect Keith Alper, a member of YPO since 2001 and the chair of YPO Innovation Week. “Innovation is key to the DNA of any business because the markets continually change and your customers and competitors can be two steps ahead of you.”
Alper shares six insights on how innovation by any definition can be embraced by all companies — regardless of size, age, location and industry — to increase profits and overall success and maybe survival.
Innovation can come from anywhere.
Innovation may already be changing businesses in another sector in ways that have not quite impacted yours. Being able to track trends your competitors have not yet noticed and harness change that is already happening may lead to a breakthrough in your own business. “We try to look not only at our competition but also at market and customer trends,” says Alper. “You might see a trend in a different industry, and look at how to apply it to your business and to benefit your customers.”
Innovators challenge the status quo.
Not only do innovators tend to see what others do not but they also forge ahead because they are able to challenge the way things have always been done. “A lot of the time, the best innovators are either the ones who don’t know any better or they see a problem and either solve it or make it easier,” says Alper, who cites Uber, Netflix and Slack as examples of innovative companies who saw a need that was not being addressed by the market.
Competition comes from all directions.
In order to stay relevant, companies have to be aware of their current and future competition. “Whether you’re the owner of a third-generation tire manufacturing company or the chief executive of a new organization, many may look to the quarter or year ahead,” says Alper. “But a lot of people don’t take the time to look at what’s behind them, like the two kids starting a business in the basement or their number five competitor.”
Take risks and accept failure.
Risk taking is a hallmark of innovative thinking. “While some companies just work to make their annual budget and don’t look ahead, they can be taken out by companies willing to test out new ideas, products and strategies,” says Alper. “You’ve got to take the risk because your business or industry will be changing, and your survival will depend on it. You also have to be wiling to fail and move on if it isn’t working.”
Build a platform for success within your company.
Most innovative thinking stems from looking at an industry or market with a fresh perspective. To encourage employees to think like an outsider, Alper advises setting up a group outside of the day-to-day operations, and giving them the space, time and money to brainstorm and test ideas. “Innovation has to be embedded into everyone’s thinking and the company DNA,” says Alper. “A lot of innovation does not come from the top down but from somewhere in the eco system.”
Just start now.
“The big questions are: Where are you? Have you started? Are you moving the blockades? Everybody talks about it but what are you doing,” Alper says. “Make a commitment to a project to a team, to research, to budget, to move fast. Don’t get paralyzed or set in your ways. Start with a MVP, minimal viable product, set up quick little tests and adjust if it fails.
YPO members can participate and learn more from fellow business leaders and leading innovators who are charged with driving innovation across a diverse range of industries and sectors during the second YPO Innovation Week, 8-12 May 2017. Members are also encouraged to apply and nominate others for the Global Innovation Awards, which will recognize and celebrate the work of members in creating and implementing world-class innovations in their businesses.