Innovation: Intangible teachings

Digital transformation, market manipulations, diversity, personalization—these are just some of the common buzzwords that has been exhausted by every organization during weekly team pow-wows. However, one term that has stuck and withstood the test of time is innovation. As with all progressions in life, innovation is here to stay and given its fluidity, will continue evolving—sometimes at breakneck speed, sometimes ever so subtly it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly are the changes.

Traditionally, innovation is the process of introducing new methods, ideas, or products. However, in today’s context, innovation is more than just having an idea. It’s the ability to make an idea tangible, to create solutions that address the needs of the society—be it a customer or a community.

Innovation in Asia Pacific

Innovation is abuzz in Asia Pacific. Notably, governments are now stepping in to create national frameworks and drive investments to boost innovation. For instance, the recent Singapore Budget 2018 announcement will see targeted initiatives such as the Productivity Solutions Grant rolled out to encourage businesses to innovate across the entire value chain, be it through buying or creating new solutions. Along with other initiatives focusing on empowering the workforce such as the Capability Transfer Programme and Tech Skills Accelerator (TeSA), it is apparent that the government only has one thing in mind—to get its people innovating.

By now you must have realized that Asia Pacific is poised to be the next business hub of the world. From having eight Asian cities making the top 10 list in business confidence in digital environmentand being the most active region for new IPOs, businesses cannot afford to be complacent, nor slowdown if they are aiming to tap onto the economic opportunities that this region presents. Should businesses fail to keep up with the latest trends, they risk becoming obsolete in today’s fast-paced economy. Let the downfall of multinational corporations such as Borders, Compaq, Kodak, and Toys “R” Us—all of which had once enjoyed enviable successes—serve as a reminder of the consequences for failing to adapt to changing industry trends.

Innovation 101

We are encouraged to see more companies realize the importance of innovation, but how can they get started? While there are no sure fire ways to guarantee a culture of innovation as each business is unique, here are some tips that businesses can adopt to inculcate innovation into their organizations:

1. Innovate across all business units

Very often, when the same group of peers look for a solution to a problem—we end up drifting towards those we are comfortable with. This restricts cross-departmental collaboration and doesn’t encourage employees to think beyond their comfort zone. Instead, a broader innovation process sees the inclusion of employees from multiple departments brainstorming, each bringing a deep knowledge in different arenas and essentially driving innovation.

2. Celebrate failure in a safe space

It is never easy to take risks but most successes are born out of failure as well as many round of trials. It is understandable to have businesses taking the well-trodden path and stay safe. However, the long-term rewards of innovation are often worth it. In fact, did you know that 26% of firms in Singapore had a failed digital project in the last 2 years, with an average cost of S$788,354 per company?

The WD-40 brand would not be where it is right now if it was not for the 39 unsuccessful attempts, which incidentally also led to the naming of this household brand. The company now has a $1.3 billion valuationand boasts more than 2,000 uses.It’s safe to say that a culture of innovation will not exist without a culture of risk. Employees need to believe they are free from reprisals if their ideas don’t succeed.

3. Equip people with the right tools

Awesome break rooms with a foosball tables and beanbag chairs sound really fun. And rightfully so, since they contribute to the team’s morale. But is this enough to inculcate innovation? On the other hand, the right tools may come in other forms such as innovation strategies and investments. For example, by allowing managers to make small investments, employees are more encouraged to test their ideas on a smaller scale. This makes it easier for the management to shelve or boost whichever initiative that gained traction.

At F5, we launched the Super-NetOps program which is a free, on-demand training course aimed at helping networks operations professionals learn the skills necessary to keep up with the DevOps movement. This clearly illustrates how simple initiatives are able to gain momentum and snowball into bigger campaigns.

4. Incentivize to encourage innovation

Sometimes an organization might get carried away with the journey of a new innovation, losing sight of fair compensation . One may argue that there are already protocols set in place to measure ROI, but new initiatives cannot be judged by the same traditional metrics. While employees are told to be innovative, their performance goals and compensation packages often don’t create the incentives to do so.

While we have seen a market shift in emphasis from annual performance reviews to continuous feedback, less than half of global companies surveyed have an established process for ongoing feedback. Therefore, it is crucial that leaders create an environment where senior management provides air cover to those willing to embark on innovation challenges.

Change starts from the top

At the end of the day, it is the duty of a business leader to guide and lead by example. Only they have the power to change the culture of their organizations. It is too easy to be complacent once all the above initiatives are set in place, however, protocols can only take an organization so far. An innovative culture is created daily by what, they themselves as leaders, punish, recognize, celebrate and reward. For innovation to be sustainable, it has to be more than just protocols—it is a way of life.