Innovation: Know the misconceptions, avoid the pitfalls

Shelli BaltmanAs digital technology continues to evolve and play an increasingly important role in connecting with consumers and creating a competitive advantage for companies, organizations are challenged to stay ahead of the curve. One way that many are attempting to meet this challenge is by creating new roles and relationships that focus specifically on innovation. Previously, we talked to OLG about their new innovation team. To gain an even better understanding of the mandate and nature of these new organizational roles, we spoke to Shelli Baltman, President, Innovation at Hotspex for her perspective.

The term "innovation" is used in a wide variety of different ways. How does your organization define it?

It is important for organizations to understand what exactly innovation is and not view it as some type of wacky brainstorming. At Hotspex, we define innovation into three different categories:

  1. New Product Innovation: focusing on bringing a new product or service to market
  2. Experience Innovation: focusing on how a new product or service is delivered or experienced by the market – think retail, customer interactions
  3. Foundation Innovation: focusing on how you grow an existing product or service through innovative approaches and campaigns

What advice can you offer to those organizations that want to focus more on innovation?

For many organizations, being the individual responsible for innovation is a poisoned chalice -- it sounds sexy, but it is difficult to actually make things happen. If you are responsible for innovation, there are four conditions for success that need to be in place:

  1. Integration: Ensure that innovation is focused on the goals of the business and is completely supportive of and aligned with the business strategy
  2. Alignment: Ensure that the leadership team is aligned to the expected investment and return of both time, energy and money around innovation
  3. Focus: Start with a clear and contained "pocket universe" to initially focus your efforts, something that is representative of your organization but is not the hardest nut to crack.  Achieve some success and then proceed with the lessons you've learned from there.
  4. Culture: Ensure that the environment within the organization is supportive, with some recognized willingness to take risks.

What is one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to innovation?

The belief that innovation is just about "the idea." Innovation is much more than that. It is about creating the journey and buy-in that allows an organization to really get behind new ideas so that they succeed. This requires the right combination of leadership, skill-sets, processes, and sets of behaviours to support and follow through with innovation.

What is one of the biggest pitfalls when it comes to innovation?

Not having the necessary processes and measures for success. Often, this means that innovation starts with an "ideas box" or a brainstorming session. For innovation to succeed there needs to be an understanding that it requires a clear, tried-and-tested approach that starts with insight. There is a certain amount of risk, resources and time required from the organization, as well as an understanding that some initiatives will fail.  Evaluating an early-stage concept with a Net Present Value analysis is nonsense.

How would you characterize Canadian organizations in terms of their focus on innovation?

Canada is a little behind the rest of the world, but there is some great work happening here with organizations that have a clear strategy and multi-year approach. Canadian companies are actually in an interesting position, as often they can be the recipients of innovation from other major markets or be "test beds" for innovation that may be exported to the rest of the world.

What lessons can you share based on your own experience leading innovation?

Before you start needlessly squandering money on an innovation initiative, talk to an expert or other people who have actually done it. There are a number of costly pitfalls that can be easily avoided by following the advice and hearing the experiences of others who have successfully delivered innovation in their own organizations.

Tim Dolan

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Tags: Customer Relations, Innovation