INSIGHT: Top 5 keys to innovation… and why NZ businesses should start now

Why Kiwi businesses should transform on their own terms.

Businesses are often forced to innovate and change - but it's much better to plan it and transform on your own terms.

Many of the most revolutionary changes in businesses happen because they are forced - disruption from market changes, competitive pressure, technical issues and even budget constraints.

But there is a better way; if you can innovate on your terms you can do so without time pressure and end up with a better result.

You just need to nail the 5 keys to innovation - purpose, vision, goals, urgency and leadership.

Forced innovation can produce results

I was recently reminded about a great example of forced innovation from the original Star Trek TV series - “to boldly go where time and budget will allow.”

The iconic transporter responsible for the misquote "beam me up, Scotty" was created because they didn't have enough money for the set and special effects required to film the USS Enterprise landing on planets.

The fall-back plan was to have a landing shuttle - but this was also unsuccessful because the life-sized model couldn't be created in time.

Running out of time, out of money and out of options – and the transporter was born.

This new idea was much cheaper, using simple special effects using backlit aluminium powder super-imposed over the actors.

I also think it was a better, more futuristic solution - but it was only created because of budget and time constraints.

High pressure, stressful changes aren't fun

When you are forced to innovate there is a lot at risk if you can’t successfully change. This puts a lot of stress and pressure into the mix – and can create a negative focus.

Purpose - can be anything from solving immediate problems to avoiding going out of business; where there is pain, the purpose is made very clear. Regularly.

Vision - a future where you take away pain is easy to for people to identify with. If your team fear the business may fail, that will galvanise action - but for some that action could be to look for work elsewhere.

Goals - when the business is in hard times, there is a lot of focus on the numbers - and targets may be set based on financial need, but could be completely divorced from reality.

Urgency - the environment of a business that is up against a wall is full of urgency, sometimes even panic - but fear can lead to bad decisions and inefficiency.

Leadership - no-one wants to go down with the ship; so while clear direction may be set - it could be in the form of pressure, rather than inspiration.

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Innovate on your terms

We don't need to be held over a barrel to innovate. We can successfully do it without the external pressure - we just need the same stimulation - “to boldly go where no-one has gone before.”

Star Trek had many innovative concepts that weren't created under duress - and many had much more impact on the world than the transporter. Gene Roddenberry had a vision and he knew how to make it a reality.

For example, the first mobile phone was inspired by the communicator, Star Trek predicted tablets and smart glasses - and Dr McCoy's medical tricorder is becoming a reality in the form of a small disc shaped device called a Scanadu.

Purpose - even when times are good, it pays to take a critical look at yourself and your industry. Re-evaluate your position in the market, recognise any potential disruptions and decide to change for the better before you are forced to.

Vision - once you know why you need to change, you need to understand why that is important for your team and your customers at a personal level. This will help win their hearts and minds and get them on the journey with you.

Goals - clearly understand the metrics of success and measure against them every step along the way. Goals are the difference between innovation and playing with new toys.

Urgency - it's important to put timeframes against achieving the purpose and offer incentives to the team for meeting those timeframes. Without urgency, it's hard to get priority and focus from those involved.

Leadership - innovation is revolutionary; so you need an inspiring figure to lead people towards the brave new world. You need a leader who "has a dream" - and can make people share that dream.

Time to start innovating

The best time to start innovating is when you're not being forced. You can boldly go where no-one has gone before - instead of meekly playing catch up. Your team will be inspired by your positive vision, not chased by fear.

Today, pre-built products and platforms make it faster to innovate than ever before so it's not the technology that slows you down.

What takes time is identifying which problems you need to solve and defining your purpose, vision and goals.

If you don't already have a plans for digital innovation, it's time to make them. Your competitors may have already.

By David Reiss - Business technology specialist, Spark Digital