Three steps to build your innovative capacity

Innovation is one of the most prevalent agendas in today’s business strategies – and in national and EU-politics as well.

Rapid changes in technology, production methods and market demands continually challenge established companies and disrupt entire industries. The capacity to bring innovative ideas and products to tomorrow’s markets can make or break even the most stable and well-run businesses of today.

Unfortunately, there’s no guaranteed recipe for making your company an innovation superstar. But if your ambition is to turn innovation into an opportunity, here are three fundamental perspectives that are an inherent part of how we work at Attention, when we help our clients innovate for the market.

inno1Put end-users before decision makers

The research and development department, in many companies, is often tasked with improving technologies and specialized skills that are already in-house. While that’s definitely important, focusing solely on specific capabilities and technologies can actually prevent your company from realizing its innovative potential.

Rather than technology itself, you’ll want to turn your attention to how your company’s knowhow and capabilities can be applied to solve actual problems. Putting potential users and trending market demands first will not only strengthen your competitive edge on your current markets, but it can also point you to opportunities in new markets.

This can be something of a challenge. Especially if you’re manufacturing for the industrial sector, your customers are often not the same as the end-users of the product. When developing products for decision makers, it often seems safer to focus on technical specifications; when you’re developing products with the users in mind, the default focus is the actual application.

Get your specialists exploring

Highly skilled specialists are valuable employees because they’re focused in a narrow field. They navigate swiftly in stable and closed environments. That’s a good thing when objectives are clearly defined, and the territory is well known.

But when innovation is the objective, the field is much less clearly defined. In this case, highly specialized focus and skill will need to be challenged and put into play in new contexts. In other words, you need to get your specialists in a position where they feel comfortable exploring and applying  their expertise outside the regular silos that most organizations are build around.

You need to get your specialists in a position where they feel comfortable exploring and applying  their expertise outside the regular silos.

Getting people involved like this is no small undertaking. One thing is to get professionals from diverse fields – eg. engineering and marketing – to understand each other and explore together. But you’ll also need to accommodate different personality types; some will jump right in, whereas others may be very reluctant to move outside their well-known territory.

Getting them to play and explore together is not done in one afternoon. But if you manage to create an open space for creativity and genuinely new ideas, you’re well on your way.

inn2Organize for creativity and progression

Creativity needs to be encouraged and nurtured. But to be able to capitalize on new ideas and insights, you also need an – at least somewhat – organized process to create direction, accountability, and progression. You have limited resources, so you’ll want tools to test and measure the ideas and decide which ones to turn into actual projects.

On the one hand, you need to keep ideas and potential solutions alive as long as relevant. On the other hand, you will continuously have to select which concepts and prototypes to move on with. It’s important that both you and your team recognize , that only few ideas will make it all the way. Most will have to be put aside, either completely or to be picked up at a later time.

Consider defining the project in terms of putting up a fence. During creative phases, you will see a lot of good ideas, but not all of them will fit inside the defined space. Sometimes, you’ll have to redefine objectives – move the fence, so to speak. But this need to very deliberate; if the project seems too constrained by the defined space, consider if there’s a case for several, separate projects.

You’re just getting started

Of course, there’s a lot more to building innovative capacity, and there will be a lot of obstacles to deal with in the process. The most important thing is to get started.

If you want more inspiration on how to build and lead innovative capacity, you can meet Attention at this year’s hi-Expo in Herning on Sep. 22-23. Come by our stand at the Walk of Innovation, or join one of the talks by Henrik Jeppesen, Managing Director, or Alistair David Morton, Engineering Director

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