Create an ‘innovation culture’ and turbocharge R&D results

In this piece, we talk about how businesses can improve the way they go about innovation and R&D to improve success rates and returns on investment.

The output of innovation programmes can make or break a business in today’s competitive, fast-paced world. Yet so often they play second fiddle, with all energies devoted to keeping the core concern churning out revenue and profit.

Perhaps this isn’t entirely surprising when we read PwC figures declaring that 85 per cent of corporate innovation fails. But business leaders can’t afford to forget that we live in a world of squeezed margins, where disruptors have become the mainstream, where Moore’s Law sweeps all before it in exponential growth year after year, and where change has become the new norm.

To those of us involved in innovation, that PwC figure isn’t particularly alarming. Most innovation does fail – ideas seem too complicated and get abandoned, or a fear of failure takes hold. But by establishing clear processes and time plans, you can increase success rates.

Do this and innovation programmes will deliver not only a greater return on any investment but also the products and services that are likely to increase market share and shareholder value.

A structured approach to new and old ideas

Too much time in corporate innovation workshops is spent going around in circles with the same ideas. These ideas aren’t bad enough to dismiss out of hand, nor are they inspiring enough to go anywhere. This is where enthusiasm for corporate innovation often fails. A structured time plan allows room to consider these older ideas fully, using a focused process to help you arrive at the right decision, before moving onto fresh ideas, ones that exploit new opportunities.

We call this process ‘keep or kill’ and ‘find and form’. Keep or kill is where we consider the existing concepts, using a clear, focused process to enable the correct decision. Find and form, on the other hand, allows for the development new ideas.

Don’t simply discard the ideas that have been doing the rounds for a while – it could be that their time hasn’t come yet. Innovation lives at the tip of the arrow and often an idea needs the wider business or the market to catch up. Or it could be that they were not properly expressed in the past.

Aim to cover around a dozen ideas at each workshop, of which two or three will progress and, of the remainder, a handful will be worth revisiting. Starting out with the few ideas that weren’t right at the previous workshop can deliver results faster than starting from scratch each time.

Set the pace for change

Delay kills enthusiasm – and can render an innovative idea obsolete. One of the main culprits is research. Waiting for numbers and feedback, failing to forward manage and big gaps in progress can stifle creativity and sound the death knell for a project or idea.

Innovation projects should be agile. Our insight community, the Home of Ideas, a panel of more nearly 4000 consumers across four continents, offers us rapid insights and input within 24 hours at any point in our innovation process – this means that the energy and momentum isn’t adversely affected.

Pace is critical in every stage of innovation. Innovation programmes that take too long can find themselves out of step with corporate strategy, so that the innovation which seemed good at the start of the process is, by the end, irrelevant. Our six-week 312 Accelerator is designed to inject rigour, pace and progress to any innovation process.

Once it moves back into the business it needs to maintain momentum. Unless there is a steady and, ideally, increasing stream of news to build anticipation and excitement it is easy for initial enthusiasm around an idea to dissipate. This becomes even more of an issue when those who are leading projects move on from their role or company before the innovation initiative has had a chance to get to market.

Be creative and always look for quicker, more efficient way to do things.

Handle projects with care

Pass a new idea between too many hands and it can end up damaged, misdirected, confused or crushed entirely. Innovation is a precious, fragile thing. It needs careful nurturing. Ideally, one person should be appointed to steer the idea from start to finish, with people to support the entire process of innovation, design and production.

Those people should have expertise in structural design, technical engineering and production lines and spend time with your R&D and operations teams. Understanding the implications of any innovation idea means the efforts can be focused on giving operations and production solutions, not problems. This will ensure the seamless transition and flourishing of your precious idea into a commercial opportunity.

Don’t go it alone

While corporations are efficient machines for producing goods and making money, when it comes to innovation they tend to be slow and cumbersome. They struggle with uncertainty, and in recent years this has seen many of them caught out by the disruptors, entrepreneurs who are aided by networks, both virtual and physical, that barely existed a decade ago.

As a result, a growing number of corporations are finding ways to externalise innovation. They are looking to programmes like our 312 Accelerator which produces purposeful innovation with clear, straightforward recommendations that are easy to communicate and sell in to the broader business.

Finally, think about where innovation sits in a business, who funds it and how it is integrated into the business. When does an NPD become part of the portfolio and who takes on the financial support for it?

All too often brand teams fail to accept winning concepts from innovation teams because they have already attributed their budgets in their brand plans and are unable or unwilling to invest in the launch. To some extent the solution here is in the communication of the idea. Present it well and help brand teams to become as excited as you are.

It is also about the integration of innovation throughout the corporation. Some innovation teams are separate departments without a clear communication or integration path into the rest of the business. Much as ‘digital’ used to be a satellite discipline operating outside of the core, innovation must be integrated into the core function of business culture and practice to deliver a better success rate.

The successful corporations of tomorrow will be those that adopt innovation wholeheartedly. They will have the right partners, they will embrace productive failure and minimise wasteful failure, but most importantly of all they will make innovation central to their culture and way of working.

Gauthier Boche is head of strategy and innovation at Webb DeVlam

Further reading on R&D

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