Business leaders are constantly looking for new tools to help them stand out from the pack, and many see innovation as essential for doing it.
One example is Spain’s CaixaBank, which was recently highlighted in a Forbes article by Jonathan Salem Baskin.
In it, Baskin notes that “although CaixaBank is Spain’s leading bank and an early-adopter of fintech, it uses digital to innovate the relationships its 32,000 people have with their clients and, thereby, maintain its competitive advantage against other tech offerings.”
By using what CaixaBank leaders refer to as “transformation strategy,” they’re finding innovative solutions to do something that many haven’t been able to achieve—combine technology with the fundamentals of their core offerings to create more substantial relationships with their customers.
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Dr. Arvind Malhotra, the lead professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at MBA@UNC, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program, agrees that innovation is needed to keep up with increasing competition in the marketplace. In a recent survey, he said, “Innovation … enables a company to gain a significant competitive advantage—thereby generating abnormal profits and stakeholder value over the long run.”
The innovation survey included ten of the top business leaders from around the country and their perspectives on this oft-used term. Here we take a look at five essential techniques these leaders cited as key to making innovation part of transformational business strategies along with examples of companies that are using them.
1. Embracing Creativity for New Results
Innovative leaders embrace creativity by supporting the freedom to think way beyond the box. By using this approach, they also optimize the wide array of skills and expertise that are available across the multiple generations within their work environments.
One pioneering organization that has made the most of creativity to produce new results is MIT Media Lab, which recently marked its 30th year. Computerworld’s Sharon Gaudin profiled the lab to mark the occasion and highlighted the key to their success: building an environment of cross-pollination to “mix technology with the artistry of different disciplines.”
Gaudin talked to Andrew Lippman, the lab’s senior research scientist, and associate director, who referred to it as “a bubbling brew of differentiation.” With such a unique approach and focus, MIT Media Lab is able to achieve technological breakthroughs that would not be possible within the traditional box of product development.
2. Creating Synergy Through Collaboration
Understanding that collaboration is critical to attaining the results they want, innovative leaders create an environment in which working together and sharing ideas is not just supported but expected.
A key component of collaboration is the ease with which it can be achieved, which is why integrating it into a regular workflow is key. According to Forbes contributor Jacob Morgan, a company that’s doing a great job of integrating collaboration is TELUS, a telecommunications company based in Canada. In an article titled “The 12 Habits of Highly Collaborative Organizations,” Morgan relays that TELUS makes all of their technologies accessible to employees through a central navigation bar and even holds “collaboration scavenger hunts” for new hires.
3. Disrupting the Status Quo
With a willingness to question everything, innovative leaders deal with broken paradigms by evaluating current realities and discarding what’s not serving business needs. Such intentional disruption gives them—and their teams—the freedom to deviate from the status quo and reach beyond the comfortable to create something new.
In journalism, the crowded nature of the digital media space has created the need for publications to find new ways to differentiate themselves—and disrupting the status quo is certainly one method of achieving it. A perfect example is the plunge that The New York Times recently took into the world of virtual reality with NYT VR.
Using Google Cardboard, subscribers watched the Times’ first virtual reality film, “The Displaced,” about the global refugee crisis. What’s a traditional news organization doing in gamers’ favorite immersive space? Since the number of active VR users is expected to reach 171 million by 2018, the Times is making use of a new technology to connect with its “readers” in a new and exciting way.
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4. Standing Firm With Skeptics
Knowing that nay-sayers are an ever-present reality, innovative leaders are able to stand firm with such skeptics and hold their ground. By having a clear sense of what motivates them, and an arsenal of facts at their disposal, they’re willing and able to move forward in the name of progress despite a lack of support.
According to Jeff DeGraff, author of "Making Stone Soup: How to Jumpstart Innovation Teams," some of the most vocal skeptics often end up being the most avid supporters.
“The people putting up the biggest fight against your innovation are actually the ones most poised to accept it later on. The problem is that we leave our doubters in a reactive position, where they judge what's wrong with our idea without offering an alternative,” he writes. “That's because they have no stake in our project. We need to bring our opponents inside the thinking process, make them co-creators of the very thing that they think they don't believe.”
DeGraff recommends three specific strategies to do this:
- Conversation—use clear, direct, and personal communication to increase understanding of your idea.
- Generation—ask skeptics for input into problem-solving, and give them credit for their ideas, even if they’re your own.
- Compensation—understand what dissenters need and sweeten the pot by making sure they get it.
5. Delivering Meaningful Change
This is the “why” that drives all else. Innovative leaders know it’s about more than the bright and shiny—it’s about the meaningful change that occurs when their creations are put to good use.
CaixaBank is a good example of this, and its approach is validated by a recent report by Accenture Interactive and Forrester Consulting, “Digital Transformation in the Age of the Customer.” In an online global survey of 396 organizations, analysts found that there are new rules for customer engagement, and provided the following recommendations for leaders who are driving digital transformation:
- Advocate digital transformation and the customer experience at an executive level.
- Execute change within the context of an end vision.
- Be willing to take risks and learn from mistakes.
- Find partners whose capabilities complement your own.
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As leaders seek new strategies to attain success, they’re increasingly counting on innovation to do it. That’s why it’s important to understand what it looks like and how to make it work in order to create meaningful change that leads to lasting results.