The worldwide mantra from developed economies till emergent economies sticks to innovation issues. You’ve probably heard of reverse innovation, frugal innovation or blue ocean strategy. It means that, in a world driven by hypercompetition, without innovation your business is common and you must daily fear your competitors. So after reading and listening everywhere that innovation drives to success, you probably started thinking about how you could innovate within your company and how you could implement innovation spirit and culture within it to launch better products and services and to compete at a large scale.
R&D department: is it the good issue for Innovation?
At this point, an entrepreneur should start focussing on the company outputs and how to enhance value in order to reach breakthrough products. In this regard, implement an R&D department and allocate resources for R&D should make sense. But the fact that you need to know is that R&D department existence doesn’t mean that you will encounter innovation.
Thousands of companies allocate significant budgets to their research and development department but without getting significant innovations. At this point you are facing a reality: creating R&D department doesn’t mean that you’ll get your breakthrough products. Furthermore, you can do research and development for a decades without reaching any significant results as major R&D departments would around the world, and without any chance to get a breakthrough product.
At this point, you need to understand that getting an innovative output starts with failure acceptance. It means that you must accept that your team first fails in developing new prototypes, new products and new services. It seems uncommon to encourage people to fail, but don’t underestimate the energy you will inject in your people, when you can tell them that they should not fear to fail when they are committed to research toward innovations findings.
Consider here Thomas Edison famous quote « I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. » And ask yourself if you are capable to find the words to encourage your team to accept to fail 9999 times? If the answer is no, just forget definitively about innovation. The main innovation law, unless you are God, lies in the fact that worldwide breakthrough innovations are build on previous failures.
When you think innovation for your company, do you figure it out “radical” or “incremental”?
When innovation topic is highlighted, it’s common that some entrepreneurs won’t differentiate properly in their mind between radical and incremental innovation. More than that, incremental innovation could be perceived with disdain.
What should be considered here lies in the fact that radical innovation is harder to get as it demands more than any other uncommon resources: the capacity to attract and retain top-skilled human resources at international level in one hand and financial capacity to get new components, new materials, patented tech and even strategic company acquiring on the other hand. Furthermore you need to be known as an innovation champion by having at least a radical innovation story to tell which in return drives to you talented people attracted by other talented people.
Incremental innovation doesn’t offer more possibilities by magic, as it demands less resources but prepares and stimulates future breakthrough outputs and draws the path to more radical innovations. In incremental innovation, you learn to observe existing products and the way you could pretend to gain respectable market share.
Which designer or design manager is made for you?
A common thinking on innovation relates in formal way to engineering. Of course engineering is at the heart of innovation but on the other hand, marketing can initiate innovation by spotting a light on hidden demand in the market not fulfilled yet. If these functions within an organization are able to drive an organization to specific innovation, today it’s not sufficient any more, as you need a third party: a designer or design manager.
A skilled designer today works as an orchestra conductor. S/He/ gathers strategic insights from developed concepts and user-centered tools, s/he can mix and manage information and insights from marketing, engineering, financial, law and patent issues and resources.
Design has become the corner stone of innovation, should it be radical or incremental. Consider here that investing in a designer is your key to opening doors to innovation. And even though you should be facing financial restrictions, you can hire him/her in consultancy mode. However, if you are not willing to share with your new design manager your strategic thoughts at a deep level, consider that you’ll not help him/her to get what you hire him/her for.
To convince you once and for all about the value and importance of a designer to play at a high level, let’s consider the place allowed to designers in one of the most innovative companies around the world: Apple.
When building Apple in the eighties, the first strategic action implemented by Steve Jobs according to Walter Isaacson was about setting up a contest to choose a world-class designer. A German designer, Hartmut Esslinger, who was working at the time for Trinitron Sony television, won the contest. What do you think Jobs did? Even he was the C.E.O. of a silicon valley star, he jumped in an aircraft and flew from U.S.A. to Germany to get in touch with him and ended the meeting with a 1.2 million year-contract and a vision about Apple products with “California global look, inspired by Hollywood and music, a bit of rebellion, and natural sex appeal.”
A decade later, in a mission to save Apple and drive it to what it is today, Steve Jobs identified a talented designer within the company who was planning to quit. He gave him the opportunity to be behind Apple most innovative products till today. This man is actually Apple senior vice president of design reporting to C.E.O., Tim Cook.
To understand the value of another Apple designer, Jony Ive, just observe what Laurene Powell Jobs said about him in his interaction with Steve Jobs: « He has a special status… Most people in Steve’s life are replaceable. Not Jony. » Steve Jobs himself said about him : “The difference that Jony has made not only in Apple but in the world is huge”. Then, you’ll understand why designer skills are essential to build an innovative company.
Now that innovation is really a mantra for you, ask yourself if you are willing to accept failure and if you are able to keep motivation alive in your team. In other words, how will you handle a new thinking departure, grounded in the precedent failure? Consider your resources and check if they are fitting with radical or incremental innovations requirements. Most importantly, be confident in the designer you chose for his/her skills and intuition, as you will need to share with him/her your strategic thoughts. Then expect your future innovation success. You’ll need to manage it too.
. Isaacson Walter (2011). Steve Jobs. ed. Simon & Shuster.