Most often, the best ideas for innovation need not come from your own industry but from other industries. Henry Ford got the idea of a moving assembly line from the meat processing industry, which changed the whole dynamics of the automobile industry by way of volumes and deployment of labour.
PepsiCo was looking for a way to reduce its sodium content in its snack foods and get the medical industry’s solution. A group of researchers on osteoporosis (a condition that leads to deterioration of the bones) had created a low-sodium substance by breaking calcium into small particles and enabling its re-growth. This technology gave the idea for Pepsi to implement them in their snack foods.
Likewise, Prble found an anti-wrinkle solution from a polymer developed by a computer chip expert based in a European University.
Companies have often succeeded in in, and they have a bias against looking outward for solutions known by the term ‘functional fixedness’. The solution is to have an in-house innovation group that constantly scouts for ideas from other industry to be incorporated into their own domain.
Foster an innovation environment
Does your business want to do the business the way it has always done? Or is it open to change? For example, a company that has always done the ‘brick-and-mortar’ business may lose out if the trend changes to a mix of online business with in-store trading. If the top management is not open to change, it will percolate down the hierarchy. And innovative ideas won’t come up.
The innovation group must meet frequently, gather ideas and suggestions and have brainstorming sessions with it. If possible, involving the entire team of workers as limiting it to a few people will limit the company’s ability to get support and new ideas from the entire talent pool. Each individual has his own talent, ideas, and experiences.
It is very important to assign ownership for innovative ideas and their execution. Often, great ideas don’t go beyond brainstorming sessions as there is no proper follow-up or ownership within the organization.
If you don’t encourage innovation, the result could be losing out on people who go on to innovate on their own and succeed. Brian Acton, who had worked for Apple and Yahoo, was denied jobs by Twitter and Facebook. He teamed up with Jan Koum, an engineer who had worked with him in Yahoo. They created Whatsapp that became a huge success that FB bought it over for $19 bn. Acton’s stake was just $3 bn at that time.
Most people think of innovation with respect to developing a new product but fail to recognize that better processes and practices within the organization can raise productivity and profits for the firm. A bad workplace atmosphere can lead to lower employee motivational levels and lower output for the firm. Google realized that workplace should not be filled with dull cubicles and walls.
Google offices have play areas, coffee bars, open kitchens, creches, themed conference rooms, libraries and several other innovations to provide a happy environment to boost productivity. Pitney Bowes Credit Corporation redesigned its interiors to appear like a village that was calm and serene. This helped them break down barriers between people and hierarchies and foster open communication. The company grew from strength to strength based on innovative products developed due to better communication between employees.
Run a contest, scout for ideas from colleges
The technology and management schools have incubators that help students develop project ideas from solar energy to waste management to new products using robotic technology. Some companies run contests for the public or in professional colleges and offer monetary rewards. The best ideas can become be licensed and commercialized.