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Jim Armstrong

Keeping innovation alive to drive growth

Author: Jim Armstrong, European sales director, OEM channel

3rd Jun 2013

Growing a business during a period of deep global recession has its difficulties. Loss of markets and lack of investment have brought some major brands down, especially in the retail sector.

Cutting costs alone won’t save you. Identifying innovation is not easy and finding additional funding even more difficult. Yet successful companies must possess the agility to allow their organisation to rapidly and efficiently adapt to changes.

So what is to be done?

Investing (time or money) in research and development is difficult to justify during these difficult times. And yet what better way to drive growth?

How do companies build a culture of innovation?

So what do we mean by ‘innovation’? Here, I’m talking about translating ideas into new products, services or processes. All it means is coming up with something new and better than before that has the capacity to be commercial.

Most companies are innovative when they start out, but day to day problems often make them defensive and the focus starts to move towards maintaining the status quo rather than looking at new ideas or new demands

We need to create the time and resources within an organization to allow staff to really innovate - and we must not be afraid of failure, but we should learn from it.

Let staff know what is going on – what the company wants to do and encourage an exchange of ideas; communication is vital. Look for ideas from inside and outside the company. If staff really understand the WHY of the organization, they will be involved, immersed and passionate; all staff attributes that stimulate innovation.

We may work on many projects and not all of them are successful. However, knowing when to ditch an idea can be just as important as recognising when to back a winner.

Things are not always perfect first time round. Sometimes it is better to get something started and moved on rather than spend time refining and perfecting, but essentially never getting the project finished. The service or product can be improved over time for incremental gains. This has the advantage of showing customers that you are improving your offer and gives you something to talk about.

Your staff are of prime importance is this process. Understanding where their strengths and abilities to innovate lie will help you to structure innovation groups. Some people prefer research, others think big; not everyone is the same.

Innovation is not always easy when you are concentrating on the job in hand

Obviously you know your own product or service and which target markets you are focussing on. But by keeping an eye on trends, not just in your own markets, you will see how the world is changing and how your company can fit in, and make money from it. Changes in social trends, laws, progress in materials and technology can all have an impact on how you deliver your products or services.
If you are focussed on innovating new products then find the gaps in your offer and fill them. Don’t be afraid to look back over old products and see if they can be resurrected with some modifications.
Keeping up to date with new materials and technology and marrying them with new trends will also help to fill the product funnel with ideas.

All of this takes time to research and so time becomes one of the most important resources needed if you are serious about being an innovative company.

My conclusion

Investment in R&D is difficult when money is tight, and time is money. Many companies cut this area during a recession without thinking of the long term consequences.

The generation of ideas for new or improved products, services or processes will help companies to succeed and create an atmosphere within the organization to encourage new thinking and keep innovation alive.


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