Innovation, the new average


[As seen on Times of Malta, 21st November, 2013]

Innovation is an overused and abused term. From political figures to businessmen, innovation, as a word, is thrown in as part of their remit or mission statement. Innovation has been so overused that as a term, it today has a negative effect or, worse still, means nothing more than mainstream or average.

In fact, when I read a press release, mission statement or advert and the word innovative appears, I immediately understand it to mean an aspiration rather than a fact. Even though that company might have something worth shouting about, the term simply doesn’t do anything for me.

When entities, political or commercial, use the word innovative or any of its variations, what they are trying to say is “we think it is new and worth taking a look” or “look how clever we are”. Statements such as “Our innovative solution” or “innovative design” adds little value to the subject and is a case of blowing one’s own trumpet.

Innovation in its entirety does not say much about value add. Then what is all the fuss about?

Innovation that matters exists when it is used as the tool for successful entrepreneurship. It is a process of solving a situation or challenge in a different way, even if that innovation is a minute property of the problem. The measure of innovation, would be the change or impact on positive results within the delivered solution.

Therefore, innovation is a process or tool that delivers potential new products or services that can reap financial, or otherwise, rewards. So yes, worth fussing about. A country with a culture that values innovation will most certainly increase their chances for economic growth.

An interesting challenge exists in developing a behaviour that is entrepreneurial and innovative. Such shifts in behavioural patterns to develop these qualities are often the most challenging, as a lot of its makeup has to do with culture.

Interestingly, because innovation is a process, it can therefore be planned. It most certainly is not some eureka moment, or flash of genius, while sitting in a dark room smoking an intellect’s pipe. Innovation comes about through the constant challenging of a status quo, whatever that may be.

The most important aspects of being innovative are essentially understanding how innovation is derived, and after, how it can be validated.

Eureka moments for an innovation happens after a process of recognising a potential solution to a problem that has never been done before. Commonly, the problem is seen from different perspectives, in different domains, through a rigorous challenging process of questioning and through research. Yet the key point in all this is not only the process, but the strict focus on a single idea or problem.

In fact, even when an innovation is deemed noteworthy and is launched into a market, it will most likely be a cyclical process of tweaking and re-innovating. This is due to the fact that once a solution is launched, customer data can be gathered and used to develop solutions of fit within a market, or in other terms, innovations that add value to a market.

This is no newly discovered scientific process of deriving innovation.  Sir Alexander Graham Bell was not trying to invent the telephone but rather was making improvements to the telegraph in a cyclical fashion. The interest and persistence in such improvements came about due to his mother’s gradual deafness which resulted in his research in acoustics.

The process of labelling an innovation comes with customer validation. Proving it within your market fit will deliver the necessary positive change for it to be felt, measured and therefore quantified.

The technology industry has understood this clearly. It understands that innovation is felt mostly once it is used, as value can be transposed or associated with such an innovation. Therefore, tech companies offer 30 day free trials and other taster forms in order to prove its innovation and value and then win the sale, without ever mentioning the term innovative.

So when should we use the word innovative? Innovation is like proper management. Every company needs it, though writing it all over your office walls is nothing more than cheesy.

In Malta, innovation through the entrepreneurship model is beginning to emerge. A quietened murmur of tech start-ups can be heard within the economy as well as an increasing availability of individuals with entrepreneurial spirit. It seems that the stars may be lining up for Malta’s emergence as an entrepreneurial society, which means that the likelihood for real innovation to be seen will be on the increase.

Are you struggling to increase your sales?

Have you been hiring and firing sales execs or business development managers and never satisfied?

Are you micromanaging your sales team due to their lack of performance?

Is your sales team inefficient?

A common challenge with top level executives is that of under performing sales teams. This is evident because cash flow is tight, growth is not being achieved  and  targets are not being met. Therefore, it is evident that your sales team is under performing and are not worthy of selling your product.

Most often, this is not the case and needs to be studied further.

A sales person is simply a cog in a very large machine. It may be the net that catches your fish but it may also be that your nets are being thrown in the wrong location or the holes are too large (figuratively speaking of course).

Before criticising anything within your business, the first place to assess is the direct function or characteristics that impacts the one in the spotlight.

For example, let us look at a company with low sales volumes and work backwards in a sort of cause and effect manner.

1. Are your nets being cast in the wrong location? What does your distribution look like? Are your sales executives targeting the right companies and locations?

2. Does the odour, colour and shape of your bait you use appeal to the right fish? Is your product positioned for the customer that you are targeting? Does it have the right branding in order to be in line with your target customer’s perceived requirements, actual or emotional.

3. Is your bait even the right bait? Does your customer want it? Will it solve enough of a problem to actually give you there hard earned cash for it? Is the value you allocate to the product similar to the value given by the customer? If not, is it within a negotiable range?

4. Are you using fishing nets blindly? Do you have a vision for your company? Is this vision communicated? Is this vision shared? Are you all trying to achieve that same vision with belief and determination? Is your culture and vision intertwined?

This cause and effect method of looking at a challenge allows the CEO or top executive to solve the true problem. A matter of finding the source, or true cause may be a challenge for various reasons but most often, such challenges force top level execs to look upwards and inwards and challenge their own methods.

Could it be that your sales team are under performing because you, as CEO, do not have or have not managed the company’s vision?

What are your thoughts?