I’m often engaged in conversations with business leaders focused around “why is innovation important to the growth of organizations?”
In more than 15 years of helping leaders understand how to lead innovation, never has the answer to this question been so apparent. If there’s anything that living through a pandemic is teaching us, it’s the value of being innovative.
How innovation affects business
Innovation is what allows us to stimulate and transform new ideas and knowledge into products, processes or services that tangibly increase value to customers, accelerate business growth, enhance operational effectiveness or improve profitability.
Here’s a different way to think about how innovation affects business.
Innovation is what makes businesses sustainable and resilient to change. It’s what teaches us how to face uncertainty and ambiguity.
As the business response to COVID unfolds, we’re hearing stories about organizations pivoting, shifting, rethinking, all with a focus on staying in business, protecting their business, and, more importantly, finding new ways to do business in highly constrained, ambiguous and uncertain circumstances.
Unfortunately, research from the Conference Board of Canada shows that while many business leaders talk about making innovation a key organizational strategy, few have been able to transform that desire into the day-to-day behaviours, mindset and culture that make innovation a reality. In our experience, it’s because the ways to achieve innovation are not well understood. Innovation is a much broader experience than looking for the next big idea to bring to the market. Innovation is also about incremental improvements that create new value through operational efficiencies and improvements to the bottom line, such as by adopting new technologies and evolving how you do your work or rethinking your business model because the world around you is changing.
The world over, the impact of COVID on business is worrisome given its anticipated to have far-reaching consequences, particularly to organizations that haven’t had the opportunity to exercise and build their innovation muscles.
Concerned, business owner and podcaster Judy Celmins wondered, what can we do for all these small businesses that will be so significantly impacted by world events? What insights can we bring them to help them respond to these challenges? As a result, she decided to invite a group of panellists, myself included from Canada, the others from Australia and New Zealand, to participate in an episode called the COVID-19 Creative Think Tank for Business. Each of the panellists has businesses aimed at helping small, medium and large enterprises leverage innovation.
To focus the conversation, Judy threw us a tough question.
What can you do to positively re-invent yourself
in the face of this crisis?
And then, she asked us all to dig into our experience to help business owners and leaders find inspiration to innovate and tackle the challenges ahead.
You can listen to the full podcast here.
As the podcast guests interacted with the hosts, I found the conversation pragmatic, real, honest and focused on looking for what’s possible. As the conversation unfolded, several ideas and themes emerged to shed light on how business owners could engage in positive re-invention.
What were they?
- Value creation and connection
- Adaptability and asking for help
- Observation and thinking through emotion
Here’s a summary of my key takeaways from the conversation that came out of the COVID-19 Creative Think Tank.
Value Creation and Connection
For value creation, as a result of this crisis and its fall out, the need for business owners and leaders to continuously assess the value of doing or having something is amplified.
Our perception of value shifts as our beliefs and values do. Even more so as revenue streams become disrupted, supply chains challenged, and resources are constrained.
As many of us have watched this crisis unfold, with each of us from a paradoxically unique and very similar vantage point, it becomes clear that the game has changed. The stadium where we have so comfortably done our work is being dismantled and rebuilt. By focusing on value and how we are connecting to the people our businesses serve, we can find new opportunities and create a better future.
When we’re dealing with changing circumstances, we need to become comfortable with asking these kinds of questions:
- Does what I’m doing make sense given changing circumstances?
- What is the value of doing it?
- What value can you add now?
- What difference can you make?
As for the theme of connection, the irony is that in a time when we’ve all had to go home and physically distance ourselves, we are becoming all the more connected.
We’re using tech in new ways to do new things. Things that we hadn’t imagined would be possible or needed, as recently as a few days ago, are suddenly no brainers we can do.
But it’s not only the connection through tech we’re shifting. We are opening up to new relationships with people. Suddenly the world and the people across it seem to be more easily in range. When we shift our thinking about the geography that divides us, the world becomes smaller, our potential to reach, more significant. And herein lies the value in our connections, our network. It goes beyond how we use social networking platforms. Consider that an essential innovation skill is relationship building and that business grows on good relationships. Here we need to be thinking about how we built our networks, and how might we leverage our network to help others?
Many of the panellists on the Creative Think Tank cited examples of the value of being able to reach into our networks and find help for our clients, our friends, our employees, our neighbours. They spoke of never before thought of collaborations that quickly came together to create win-win opportunities and meet immediate needs. When we’ve built goodwill in our networks, we have something else of value. We have established trust we can leverage to help others.
Adaptability and Asking for Help
The necessity to solve problems in new ways has enabled many of us to leap over barriers that previously kept us from growing and adapting to our businesses. We’ve made huge strides in technology adoption and charted new territory in working from home and meeting virtually.
This situation has created circumstances where we’ve become aware of the learning curve many of us are facing. At the same time, we realize we can learn together. So, we’re offering to help, and we’re asking for help. We’re overcoming barriers to working together. Because necessity is the mother of invention, we’re adapting business models and experimenting, which is a good thing because we need to evolve what we’ve built. Many of us operate from assumptions that don’t serve us, and in a crisis, there is an opportunity to challenge these assumptions so we can find new ways of doing our work.
Observation and Thinking Through Emotion
Finally, there was a theme of observation and thinking through emotion.
Let’s face it. In a crisis, emotions are more challenging to keep under wraps or as in control as we typically expect in the workplace. But here’s the thing. It’s people who innovate. Emotions are part of being human, and innovation isn’t logical; it’s emotional. We need to meet people where they are. We need to be real. We need to be honest about where we are and the trials and tribulations about getting to somewhere new. And we need to cut each other, and ourselves, some slack as we learn to do something new.
A good set of questions to ask is:
- What are we learning?
- What are we noticing?
- What needs can we satisfy?
It’s essential to stay out of fear – as one panellist suggested – “don’t panic.” It’s hard to see opportunities and solve problems creatively when your emotions are running amok. If you’re reacting to situations rather than responding purposefully, you can’t find the opportunities that will make it easier to re-invent.
To sum up, re-invention in a crisis isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes grit and wit. The good news is, while it might be hard, it is possible. And when it comes to an understanding of “why is innovation important to the growth of organizations?”, I think it’s safe to say innovation is key to our survival, our ability to sustain ourselves and be resilient in the face of change.
The COVID-19 Creative Think Tank Panellists and sponsors included: Wade Kingsley from The Ideas Business, Janice Francisco (me) founder of BridgePoint Effect, Ideas Architect & business coach Geoff McDonald, high-performance systems specialist Geoffrey Wade, and Eriks & Judy Celmins founders of Engage 4 Insights and the Engage4Insights Podcast. And host Shayne Brian from Elevate podcasts. Thank you all for your inspired conversation.
About BridgePoint Effect
Doing business in an evolving, dynamic environment brings unique, never-before-seen challenges for business leaders.
We have a framework that helps leaders and their teams to know what to do when they don't know what to do. We help teams discover and deliver innovative solutions so they can achieve their goals
A boutique consulting firm located in Toronto, Canada and doing business globally, BridgePoint Effect provides innovation and strategy consulting that helps teams win.
Our services are delivered at your-site, our-site, virtually and in blended on-site and virtual formats.
 This definition of innovation is adapted from the work of our colleague Brett Richards, the inventor of the Organizational Growth Indicator Assessment that measures the ability of organizations to adapt and grow through innovation