Do you need an innovation plan?

Any type of business, be it small, medium or large, requires some sort of marketing plan in order to garner customers. A lot of time and money is invested in marketing to maintain a company’s presence and build brand awareness.  Most large companies have a dedicated marketing team or department that focuses solely on promoting the company brand and products.  They spend countless hours developing and executing a marketing plan, usually through in-depth research and brainstorming.  The ultimate goal is to attain more customers and increase top line revenues.  

Marketing is a key element in the success or failure of a business and needs to be constantly improved and implemented.  Like marketing, innovation is an equally critical component of business success and helps to build and grow a business. Innovation is needed for the viability, longevity and competitive edge of a business.  Yet, innovation is overlooked by a majority of companies, big and small.  Due to this lack of investment in innovation, a number of businesses fail to survive or achieve the desired success.  Blackberry is a good recent example of this failure in innovation investment and planning.  Certainly Blackberry invested in R&D and captured the mobile market with an innovative product, however R&D and innovation are not always the same thing.  

Innovation by definition is the development of a new method, idea or product – something that has not been done before.  It is not the improvement in current processes or products with the use of technology or efficiency methodology. Rather, it is forging new products that have not existed before, or utilizing technology or processes in a new way.  A lot of R&D departments focus on incremental product improvements, with only a few having true innovation centres.  The oil industry, which is a in the energy sector, certainly focuses on improving extraction or refinement processes. However, most of these improvements aren’t necessarily innovative.  It would be innovative if the oil industry, for example, invested heavily in the research and development of alternative power/fuel sources. It may not be their current core product, but it may help the industry survive for the future, knowing that eventually society will move away from fossil fuels.   

Innovation centres rather than R&D departments would be better suited for businesses that want to grow or survive long term.  But, to have an innovation centre requires innovative thinking.  The centres need to have an environment that rewards new ideas and promotes brainstorming and encourages the testing and development of those ideas.  Even if the ideas may not be financially or technologically feasible, they should not be discarded or ridiculed.

This is where an innovation plan is imperative to the success of a business.  The plan should encompass the development of an innovation centre that fosters creative thinking.  To a degree, thinking outside the box should not be so outside; but rather, it should be a core component of the innovation plan.  Like a marketing plan, research should be conducted to determine the best methodology and processes that can be implemented for a given business based upon the current structure and resource limitations of that business.  The innovation plan needs to be dynamic and everchanging to prevent stagnation and maintain an environment of freshness within the centre.  External support or input can inject new life into the innovation processes and prevent internal complacency from creeping in.  For smaller businesses, the idea of having a separate innovation centre may not be a feasible option, however mini-breaks from the regular routine of day to day operations may instill a fresh perspective on opportunities that could help build the business and allow for growth.  The main idea of the innovation plan is establishing a creative environment, prompting creativity, acquiring creative people and supporting new ideas.

Small businesses and some medium size businesses may enter into the market with an innovative idea.  However, in contrast to the case of Blackberry, in order to maintain that competitive edge or to grow requires an innovation plan.  This innovation plan needs to be supported by the business and creativity needs to be hardwired into the core value of the business.  Companies need to invest in innovation, as much as they invest in other facets of their business, to be successful for the future.  So, yes you do need a innovation plan if you wish to survive in this new and ever changing business environment.

Nav Sooch, P.Eng, MBA

Business Consultant

Vistara Consulting Ltd.

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