By Eric van Niekerk – Research Lead, Innocentrix

The importance of an innovation strategy

All planned innovation activities within an organisation should begin with the strategic goals of the company in mind. Without a firm, strategic backbone, innovation can be anything from difficult to impossible.

The development of an innovation strategy is one of the first steps an organisation must take to ensure alignment and the allocation of resources. This strategy should outline the organisation’s overall strategic business goals and show how innovation can be applied to achieve them. An innovation strategy must be well defined with no room for ambiguity, since it guides innovation teams and provides metrics by which to measure innovation success. Solid goals ties innovation activities to the organisation’s overall corporate aspirations.

What to think about

Strategic innovation considers internal as well as external linkages, it looks at the elements of leadership, capability building and culture, implementation and measurement and funding at various stages of the innovation life cycle. All these are important aspects worthy of further discussion, but as a start and on a broader level, consider to:

1)     Involve top management

Innovation needs to be led from the top, and as seen in the Innocentrix Innovation League Report, “leadership” is one of South Africa’s strongest innovation pillars. Getting company leaders from CEO level involved from the get-go is important to visually drive the imperative. Leadership also need to understand not only innovation as a concept and how it applies to the organisation, but also what their roles are in making it happen.

2)     Involve your customers

A lot of value can be generated through collaboration with stakeholders. An organisation’s customers are one of the first sources of information when developing an innovation strategy. The Strategy& (Formally Booz & Co)2012 Global Innovation 1000 Report shows that organisations who involve their customer base throughout their innovation process are ranked higher than their peers. Customers can be involved from the ideation process to the testing of the final product, and have often been a rich well of creative resources for organisations.

3)     Be proactive, not reactive

Some organisations who launch an innovation initiative can do so in reaction to peers’ and competitors’ activities. Organisations try to play ‘catch up’ within their market space but may end up falling short. Innovation is about new solutions, different outlooks, new markets or products, and failure is part of this process. Do not be afraid to fail initially – some of the world’s most creative organisations celebrate failure with examples like Grey Advertising’s “Heroic Failure Reward”.

4)     Strategy development must be fluid and adaptable

Constant change drives the need for sustainable innovation efforts. Failing to move with the times could be very dangerous and as we have seen, even fatal to your business. Your organisation also changes almost on a daily basis and innovation management trends, technologies and approaches also change over time. More options become available, learning takes place. A good strategy therefore needs to be a living document. A roadmap towards action that speaks to the everyday context of the organisation and the environment it operates within. Having an innovation strategy that allows for this fluidity in design is crucial to innovation success. Keep your thinking and planning relevant; review often and learn as you go, but learn.

Writing up your strategy

An innovation strategy needs to be formulated in one form or another. It needs to be communicated and implemented. As long as it does not gather dust, how you do this will depend on you. As one example and providing a useful visual guide on how to think about and capture your innovation strategy, see the Strategic Innovation Canvas. This handy, one page guide allows for easy reference and mapping. Now, why not start to give innovation legs in your organisation?