Customers need to be engaged and involved in the process of constant innovation. Market research alone cannot do it.
Here are a few suggestions:
• Involve everyone in the quest for ideas
• Involve customers in your process of generating ideas
• Involve customers in new ways.
• Focus on needs that customers don’t express
• Focus groups provide feedback only on existing ideas.
• Seek ideas from new customer groups
Harvesting ideas is good. But using them is critical. Tapping customer innovation is a process that can help customers give creative ideas.
Organizational Culture has the great Emphasis on Innovation. Without the oxygen of support and applause, ideas often die in infancy. The creativity improvement program can be the foundation that enables all other company programs to be effective. There are a number of steps to ensure that the program encourages innovation.
A small bank, which did not have the funds to pay for expensive real estate, came up with the idea of using other people’s premises: schools, petrol pumps and super-markets. Then they moved seamlessly into a growth path, starting thousands of ATMs and mobile banks. Today, they are one of the largest banks in India.
More recently, many banks have introduced the concept of 24-hour direct banking with business being carried out by anonymous people at the end of a telephone. This is neutralizing the competitive advantage, which established banks enjoyed by virtue of functioning from prime sites in Mumbai.
Leadership and consumer relevance are the top drivers of innovation. There are two essential ingredients for successful innovation: Leadership and Consumer Relevance. Innovative processes do not begin in the R&D laboratory. They are initiated with a mandate from the highest level of the corporation. Identifying the consumer’s needs is an equally integral part of the innovation process. Ensuring employee participation in planning and a complete buy-in into innovative strategy is critical.
At Unilever, top management strongly believes that innovation has to be closely linked to the business strategy.
Innovation is more likely to occur in a melting pot of exotic diversity. Homogenous groups are less likely to spark off innovative ideas. Corporations that celebrate diversity and respect it are more likely to create a stable of innovators. Using an inexperienced outsider or a naïve resource can create major breakthroughs in traditional industries. In some cases, companies that network with competitors have benefited more in terms of innovation.
Productivity depends on performance feedback, as does innovation. 360-degree feedback provides young innovators the opportunity to give their bosses clear feedback on a less than conducive environment. A system to clearly map individual competencies and provide consistent, timely feedback, can result in providing appropriate training when required.
The immigrants of diverse races who moved to the USA, created a dynamic flow of new ideas and thus helped in forming a leading economy.
• The capacity to truly respect another’s ability to think.
• To create a positive field where others can think
• The capacity to explore alternatives rather than supporting existing facts.
• Never to hold non-negotiable opinions
• The capacity to see the useable parts of the most radical ideas
• Becoming aware of your prejudices and assumptions and eliminating them
• Create movement in a situation like throwing a pebble into a pond
• Love, respect, appreciate yourself
• Learn the mathematics, the tools of innovation.
• Involve all through, participation and commitment
Tapping customer creativity is a tool to help negotiate new products with customers. It is the kind of process that reinvents the future. For instance, customers were not even aware of the possibility of a Walkman. Only an intense negotiation between top management, manufacturing and customers could have created it.
Proctor and Gamble has a Connect and Develop hub (C&D hub), which helps to harness the creativity of consumers, employees, trade partners and others.
Customer interaction can be induced by the following:
• Management by Walking Around (MBWA) is the most appropriate way to ensure that the customer’s voice is built into products and processes.
• Advisory committees of opinion leaders can be an effective method of keeping one’s finger on the pulse of public opinion.
Focus group interviews enable customers to explore ideas with skilled facilitators, trained to go below the surface of suggestions and complaints.
The way a company treats its top performers provides role models for all others. If such fast track performers are innovative, then others will see creativity and innovation as the path to success. If most star performers are cautious and rule bound, the clear message would be, “Be careful and just follow rules if you want to move up. Creativity does not pay”.
Many management teams are involved in fire fighting and solving urgent matters that have developed into critical situations. Time needs to be set apart to study alternative solutions for the problems that lie under the surface of a running organization. ‘Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke,’ say the Americans, meaning, do not change something that is working well. This is disastrous advice in the present context of rapid change. Status quo is the gateway to overnight obsolescence. Innovation should be planned when things are going well. When things are going badly, when survival itself is an issue, no one has the time or energy to look for alternatives.
Ashok Leyland has a YES program to harvest new ideas from young executives.
Creativity needs time and energy. The 6Ms (Men, Materials. Machines, Methods, Markets and Money) should be made available to the initiative over the long-term. Sustained innovation requires that resources are set apart for practice of the innovation process. Innovation spirals should meet.
A manager comments: “I m not sure I want my people to be more creative; they have trouble getting their work done on time and within the budget as it is.”
Call for problem owners. It is essential for every problem to have a problem owner (PO). It is this problem owner who will choose the solution that suits his resources map (6Ms and time). The PO is critical because otherwise the teams will have not have the necessary momentum to reach the finish line and side step hurdles. A problem without an owner is a baby without a mother.
The Problem Owner
• owns the issue
• describes it
• directs the content of the meeting by:
contributing wishes and ideas, selecting the avenues to explore, paraphrasing ideas to check understanding before evaluating
• evaluates constructively
• decides when a solution has been reached
• commits to next action
The team is working with and for this person. The problem owner is responsible to get as much as possible from the team. How the problem owner interacts with team members and their ideas will have a profound impact on the productivity of the group, so it is important that interaction with the team members is designed to increase their involvement.
Mr. Harsh Mariwala, chairman, Marico Industries, believes his corporate social responsibility is spreading the message of innovation as the practice of innovation can build the Nation. He believes that innovation flourishes in an open, empowering culture, a prototyping culture. ‘We give a new business idea to a team and empower them to implement it. We then remove the escape button’. Like the Greek leader who burnt all the boats and bridges once his army was on enemy territory. The commando force was infused with a do or die attitude; there was no way back -- the only way was forward to victory.
‘The idea is first incubated in an Incubation cell. They report directly to me for 2 years. It is dismantled once their role is completed. Today, for example, the Kaya Skin Clinic is a flourishing new business. Each of my product teams identifies their innovation agenda as part of strategic planning.’
‘We are driven by our concern for the environment, and preventive natural good health. To us a customer is a person with constantly rising aspirations. Our suppliers are our partners in business.’
‘“We believe in orbit shifting innovation. To be acceptable, innovation should translate into cash flow. We have experienced that in our company.’
Dr. Rekha Shetty is Managing Director of Farstar Distribution Network, a unique consultancy company devoted exclusively to innovation and creativity under the brand name Mindspower.She is an author, an entrepreneur and an original thinker. Her long term Innovation Initiative, using 47 thinking tools helps in a steep increase in profits, reduction in costs, while improving customer satisfaction levels and employee participation levels. She is a consultant to ICICI Bank, Ashok Leyland Ltd., Hyundai Motors Ltd., TVS Group, TI Group, Durgapur Steel Plant, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. and other blue chip companies.
In her very first assignment in United India Insurance, she developed a nationally acclaimed advertising campaign. During the last seventeen years, she has specialized in the field of Creativity in Management and developed her own management brand, Mindspower. She was one of Asia’s first women District Governors for Rotary International and was awarded Rotary’s highest Award – Service above Self.
Her fourth book “Innovate! 90 Days to Transform your Business” is under print and will be released by Penguin during May 2010.