Innovation as a driver of organizational agility

BY CIRO PÉREZ 10, Jan 2018


1. What do we mean by innovation?

Today, the word innovation is on the lips of every executive or organizational leader, so often that it sounds like the latest fad of the moment or the promo item of the month. Conceivably for some companies, this is their reality: to say or to seek to be innovative because everyone is talking about it. In truth, innovation is a vital factor in order to stand out in the market and secure business sustainability. In other words, this is a strategic aspect that must be present in all companies, either as a skill or as an area of development.

A popular belief about innovation is that it is a skill which certain “special” people have to create products or solutions out of nothing, virtually straight out of their inspiration. However, the reality is that innovation must be understood as the potential or developed capacity that any company has to identify all the resources in their environment, and analyse, link and integrate them, to address a need. This way, the company can build a solution, a product or a service that breaks with old paradigms or dynamics of doing things. We can mention many business examples of this kind, such as the iPhone, Airbnb, Uber, smart cars, Yelp, payment wearables (frictionless means of payment), among others.

Obviously, to build solutions of the calibre just discussed requires an extra team that is highly prepared, in addition to investing a certain amount. However, this must not stop any company from adopting innovation as a skill that must be pervasive throughout the organization; otherwise its survival is at risk. Moreover, in a world where collaborative economy is gaining clout and importance even in organizational relationships, initiatives such as crowdsourcing or crowdfounding, become solutions that open the doors for developing innovations to different actors, from entrepreneurs and SMEs to large companies.

2. How does innovation contribute to agility?

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results.” A. Einstein.

Organizational agility represents for some companies a big change in their way of working and doing things. This includes leaving their comfort zone to try new solutions, which also implies espousing a culture where error is not seen as something negative, but quite on the contrary, as an opportunity to continue learning. This is precisely one of the principles of innovation, to open up to the world of possibilities, viewing them as opportunities to obtain even better results than the ones they have been getting.

Developing innovation as a skill becomes a powerful tool for expressing agility within the organization, since it invites its leaders and collaborators to question their processes, communications, work dynamics, use of technological resources and customer relationships, as well as to address trends in their environment.

An example of this can be seen among companies that use design thinking, as a methodology to develop new products, services or solutions through understanding the customer and their needs and designing prototypes that must be tested before getting the green light to go to market. Some of the benchmark organizations of such practices are Apple and Lego; these companies constantly monitor their customers’ needs and innovate in the products they offer.

3. How to achieve this?

Developing innovation to drive organizational agility in a company represents a challenge that starts chiefly with the people, and then translates into processes and technology. Consequently, here are some recommendations for companies to consider:

  • Promote a paradigm shift through their leaders, where employee proactivity and putting forward new ideas and solutions are welcomed. This should be complementary to human capital strategies that encourage agility.
  • Develop technological surveillance of trends in their environment, encourage among their collaborators to constantly updating such trends and see how these could impact the business, in order to anticipate the changes.
  • Identify the methodologies and tools that will be used to stimulate innovation, such as brainstorming, empathy maps, journey maps, storyboards, etc. This will also encourage collaborative work, an essential resource for agility.
  • Develop change management skills among their collaborators, so that they are agents of change and know how to adapt to change easily.
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