Innovate or stagnate: the Co-Innovate Programme at InterTradeIreland

Co-Innovate programmeNeil Ryan the Co-Innovate programme manager at InterTradeIreland has the following tips for developing innovation within your business.

Steve Jobs has suggested that “Innovation has nothing to do with how many R & D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R & D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you lead, and how much you get it”.

In a world where markets are becoming increasingly more competitive, studies have shown that innovation is vital for the success and long-term sustainability of any business. Every business is different (size, sector, goals, location, etc) and there is no one size fits all approach to implementing innovation. What is key, is realising that innovation can occur in any part of a business and ensuring that, as a company, you’re open to identifying opportunities for change and continual development.

Find time to look beyond your core business

With existing customers to keep happy or orders to meet, it can be difficult to find the time to look outside the business for opportunities and threats.  However, this is vital in order to react to market changes, minimise risks, keep up with the competition and stay on top of the latest developments and trends in your industry.

Be creative

When generating ideas, don’t limit yourself or rule out any ideas. Brainstorming with others can provide the knowledge to make an idea you initially thought not possible into a reality, or can provide inspiration for a related concept. Don’t just think about innovation in terms of product or service provision, innovation can be a giant leap in technology, or a series of incremental developments.

Make sure its meaningful

What is important is you are innovating towards a meaningful goal. Is there a need or demand? Does it address a problem or challenge? Is it fit for purpose? Is it cost effective? Is it sustainable? Is it compliant? These are all early questions you can quickly ask to check if your idea has potential to take further. If not, maybe you should consider if there is a better opportunity to try to exploit.

Be ruthless

Once you have developed a list of ideas or opportunities, you can then prioritise them. Your time and resources are limited, so make sure to only invest time, money and energy in concepts that show the greatest likelihood of success.  Use a fail fast/fail cheap approach, so that resources are not wasted and you can quickly move onto the next priority in your ideas bank.

Mistakes are ok!

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes or of failure. Even the most innovative companies make mistakes or begin working on a concept that ultimately fails. What is important is to learn from those mistakes and use this knowledge for the future to develop those winning ideas.

Employee engagement

Build a culture of innovation within the organisation at every level. Your employees are bursting at the seams with ideas, so why not use this resource? Encourage ownership and give them the time and freedom they need to develop new ideas and also create opportunities for different types of employees to come together to create ideas and develop solutions.

Your business or the employees within may be quite capable of handling their specific areas of focus. But each will have their own strengths and weaknesses, and as a result products, services, and profits will suffer unless you can identify these weaknesses and address them. One way to do this is though partnering with others (both internal and external to the business) in order to fill skills gaps, connect ideas, reduce the time to market, share resources and undertake workloads not possible alone in order to maximise the potential of the business. This collective intelligence is also a great opportunity for learning.

Know your customers

Understanding your customers and fostering meaningful relationships with them is core to innovation. They will tell you what they need or want, which can guide you. Negative and positive feedback is a gift for innovation – use this when making your plans for development.

What’s next?

Keep going! The world around us is always changing, markets develop and there are always improvements you can make within your business or to your offerings. So, it is important that you continue your innovation journey in order to remain one step ahead of your competitors and preserve the long-term future of the business. It can be challenging but it is stimulating and worthwhile.

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