On today’s show, instead of hosting a guest, I am the guest. Erich Viedge interviews me for his podcast, The Skeptical Executive. Erich brings innovation to unique industries. He’s also an early listener of Killer Innovations. Erich has some good questions to ask me. We touch on a range of thoughts and issues around innovation and creativity.
Is Innovation for Everyone?
Are there industries or businesses where there’s no role for innovation? Many companies claim innovation as a value. Erich’s local carpet cleaner has ads claiming “innovation”. Erich’s skeptical. My belief is that there’s always room to innovate. That carpet cleaner may not revolutionize the cleaning process. But he could innovate the customer experience. That may set the cleaner apart from the competition. If you’re not innovating, you’re standing still. If you’re standing still, someone’s going to go right past you. In any industry, there’s opportunity to look at the business, the customers, the operations differently. All are ripe areas for innovation.
What are the hidden benefits of innovation done right?
When I was CTO at HP, our market share in PC laptops was low and we were losing money. It was my job to turn it around. The prevailing thought at the time was there wasn’t much to innovate in laptops. My team proved that wrong. We researched and found the customers’ spoken and unspoken needs. The result: our market share jumped to number one. The hidden benefits were several. It boosted employee morale. The innovations energized the engineers with the chance to do something different. Shareholders benefited. The profits gave HP flexibility to invest in new product lines.
Even commoditized products like laptops can use innovation. When you meet customers’ needs and wants, they will pay a margin premium. A margin premium gives you flexibility to adapt your business, to be the leader in the marketplace. It’s that breathing room that becomes critical in these highly competitive times.
The Right Consultant
What should a CEO do when ready for innovation? How does that CEO find the right innovation consultant? Here are some questions to consider in vetting a prospective consultant.
- Does the consultant have experience leading innovation?
- Experience in the trenches dealing with organizational change?
- Done it, lived it, been successful at it?
- What is the consultant’s philosophy on a business’s culture?
- In his/her view, what kind of culture fosters innovation?
- Does that view align with the CEO’s?
- Does the consultant address major issues such as
- Fear of failure,
- Corporate antibodies,
- How authority is handled,
- How decisions are made.
- What is the consultant’s innovation process?
- Does he/she expect the organization to adapt to his/her process, or
- Will the consultant create and adapt processes to fit the organization?
Sometimes the culture of a business needs to change before innovation can happen. Erich’s experience with the mining industry demonstrates how challenging changing the culture can be. For one mining client, it took two years for the culture to change before innovation processes could begin.
Habits for Innovation Success
Creativity is essential for innovation. It’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised. My habit for building creativity is to spend 30 minutes Monday through Friday ideating. This is my time to brainstorm creative solutions to problem areas for the various roles I hold. On Saturday, I rank these ideas and prepare the best for teams working the problem space. For momentum in my ideation session, I start with some inspiration (music or a brainteaser) and set a quota for ideas. I keep going until I meet the idea quota.
Trend safaris are another great way to spark creativity. I take these safaris with teams or individuals to places far and near looking for trends and weak signals.
Think you’re not creative? Think again. We all are born creative. Unfortunately, we are untaught this creativity along the way. Looking to reignite that creativity? Check out more Killer Innovations shows or read about creativity at philmckinney.com.
Thank you, Erich, for a great interview.