Innovation 101: How to capitalize on opportunities and gain a competitive advantage

Monday February 23, 2015
Written by Shawn Casemore
Feb. 23, 2015 - When you think of innovation, what names come to mind? Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson? Or you might think of companies like Apple, Google or Zappos — companies that have set the bar through the continuous introduction of new products and services, both inside and outside their niche.

In each of the above examples, technology has played a significant role in putting these individuals and companies on the map; however, this has also influenced our beliefs relative to innovation, creating the perception that only through technology are we able to capitalize on innovation.

Fortunately, this perception is wrong.

As innovation transcends industries, sectors and even countries, I’ve spent considerable time working with and studying some of the most innovative and recognizable companies of our time — companies like GE, Bruce Power and Proctor & Gamble. It’s become obvious that having the ability to capitalize on innovation is not based on investments in technology, but rather lies in an organization’s ability to create systems and processes that facilitate the capture, validation and integration of unique and powerful ideas.

Not surprisingly, I’ve found that these companies all follow a similar formula for capturing and capitalizing on innovation. This formula is a pragmatic process for identifying and bringing new ideas to life. In fact, the lack of complexity in these innovation programs allows for any company, regardless of sector or size, to formulate and introduce an innovation program of its own by remembering the following four points.

1. Innovation is under your nose
Early in my career, I managed an operational team that incorporated a group of procurement professionals. Each day, there were virtually dozens of cold calls and meetings that occurred between existing and potential suppliers and the procurement team. These calls were perceived as a nuisance to the team, interrupting what they considered to be more important tasks. As a result, the managers went about identifying ways to avoid supplier meetings and interactions. In essence, they were killing innovation opportunities before they had a chance to flourish. Companies like Proctor & Gamble have recognized this opportunity and created an “Open Innovation” forum where they connect and collaborate with external inventors, suppliers and contractors to create and capture ideas on new products. Innovation is right under your nose; you just need to tap into it.

2. Ideas don’t always come easy
For innovation to be successful, you must poke, prod and provoke your greatest sources of ideas into overcoming their mental perceptions of what is actually possible. Kimberly-Clark recognized that although employees held the key to new and innovative solutions, there were barriers and existing mental models that restricted these ideas from being realized. As a result, Kimberly-Clark formed a process whereby the company frequently brought outside thought leaders into their organization to work with internal business teams to overcome mental models and create innovative strategies and ideas. Are you enticing and provoking employees and leaders to think beyond what they believe is possible to find new and innovative solutions?

3. Every good idea started out crazy
It wasn’t until an employee stumbled across some snow globes during an annual conference that Disney’s “Blizzard Beach” concept came to life. The very idea of a beach immersed in a snowstorm may seem a little off-the-wall, but as a one of Disney’s major attractions today, this perceivably crazy idea has made positive contributions to the financial success of Disney. Locating and capitalizing on innovative ideas requires an open mind, along with the willingness to consider counter-intuitive and contrarian ideas. Are you enticing leaders, employees and other stakeholders to identify off-the-wall ideas?

4. When it comes to ideas, value and speed are a priority
With all of the sources of innovative ideas tapped into, the task of identifying and investing in the most valuable ideas can be daunting. However, timing is crucial. Would Tesla have created a recognizable and sought-after brand in electric vehicles had they decided to wait a couple more years? Processes to facilitate the capture, validation and implementation of new and innovative ideas must focus on prioritizing each idea based on their value (to the company, its customers and vision) and speed (how quickly the idea can be brought to life). Do you have a process to contrast new ideas against value and speed?

Despite what many might have you believe, innovation is not a complex process. It is a valuable tool that can be engrained into your company’s daily operations, forming a competitive advantage that can survive the life of the organization.

Isn’t it time you considered incorporating an innovation process for your organization?

Shawn Casemore (@ShawnCasemore) is the president and founder of Casemore and Co Incorporated (www.casemoreandco.com), a management consultancy helping businesses build companies that employees and customers value.


This article originally appeared in the November/December 2014 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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