What is Innovation?
One of the biggest debates we see boards have is, “What is innovation?” Does incremental innovation count? Does it need to be disruptive? Step change? Is Design Thinking the same as Innovation? These discussions, while intellectually stimulating, can often be counterproductive.
At Sprint Valley, we take an open and inclusive view of innovation as an organisation’s opportunity to drive meaningful change across the organisation. These are the opportunities that are good for the business, give employees meaning to their work, and fill a need for customers, too. They might be disruptive. They might be incremental. The truth is, what you call or how you define it, is far less important than what you do to action it.
If you want to harness innovation in your organisation, you’ll need an Innovation Strategy (call it what you will).
What is Innovation Strategy?
Innovation strategy is about getting your business aligned on where to focus your budget and energy in order to drive meaningful change that will allow you to overcome the existential threats to the future health of your organization.
A strong innovation strategy starts with getting crystal clear on the threats and opportunities that will define whether or not the business is thriving over the next 2-5 years AND you don’t yet know how to respond to. These may be internal challenges such as training and workforce development or external changes related to market pressures. These should be headline forces that teams need to be aware of to take meaningful action.
As you build your innovation strategy, you’ll also want to consider:
- Opportunities: What is the emerging ‘white space’ you see ahead? This might be building on current successes or shifts in your environment/competitors you see as potential advantages to leverage.
- Ambition: What is your ambition for the business, but for employees and customers? If you’re not an owner, you are less likely to care about revenue growth, but your team will care about raising standards of work and customer value.
- Priorities: What are your strategic pillars? These are specific areas of focus you believe are the ‘levers to pull’. Examples might include pricing performance, employee engagement, and customer satisfaction—importantly, these are not solutions, they are areas of focus.
To get started drafting your innovation strategy, check out our Clarity Canvas.
The 7-word innovation mantra
Sprint Valley worked with a leading UK law firm to get crystal clear on the existential threats to their organisation and the innovation strategy that would help them future-proof their organisation.
Analysis of commercial data, voice of the customer work and fast-paced collaborative workshops quickly built consensus and enabled decisions and formed the basis for their Innovation Strategy. Together, we transformed the way they approach problem-solving and the speed at which they can deliver measurable results.
The law firm’s biggest challenge was in a part of the business where growth and profitability were below average. For that particular team, the 7-word mantra gave the permission they needed to simplify and focus all of their energy on taking action. In place of following a rigid, pre-set plan, the team undertook a programme of customer research, solution generation, prioritization, and then actually getting out there and piloting new solutions. This agile response ensured they didn’t get bogged down with the countless tasks and subtasks typical of a newly minted strategy.
As a result, the team was able to re-design internal processes to improve workflow, document production and communications. Employees enjoyed a 67% reduction in document production time and 25% increase in Lawyer capacity. This had a real business impact of 9% > 18% profitability for the business unit, 37% growth in sales, and got the law firm nominated as a finalist for an industry award.
Get specific about the challenges putting your business at risk
When was the last time you got your team together to get explicit about your number one challenge that if left unaddressed, threatens the long-term success or stability of your organisation?
Our #1 tip: Don’t waste time arguing about what ‘real’ innovation is and whether incremental improvement counts. Innovation is the discipline of tackling existential threats and opportunities early enough for you to have a chance of winning. Who cares if the solution is
incremental or disruptive, what matters is that the right problems get solved.
Here’s what to do:
- Get specific about the biggest risks to the business over the medium and long term
- Be candid about the challenges that the business has never solved before
- Re-frame Innovation as the method for finding new solutions to those challenges
Innovation Strategy Resources
We share more resources across the site to help manage change and build your innovation strategy: