Non-innovation companies don't prioritise innovation. For these organisations, it's a challenge to understand innovation, so they don’t place enough importance in it.

Innovative companies have one thing in common: innovation is a priority, initiated by the leader of the organisation. Innovation is integral to remaining relevant as the market evolves. Many industries have seen significant changes in market conditions over the years, from the evolution of technology shifting consumers buying patterns, product, distribution, and communication channels.

I have seen that when businesses disregard innovation, they start to become irrelevant. For example, this occurred with the rapid growth of online travel. The wholesale travel distribution channel saw a decline in business across the board. I became involved in a wholesale travel business during this disruption.

We became innovative, successfully introducing a range of practical strategies to adapt to the changing business environment. The organisation remained relevant as a result when many companies did not survive. There are several ways that leaders can prioritise innovation. Innovation is everyone’s job, but someone needs to lead.


Start with making innovation a priority, not a project, so that innovation becomes the core of your organisation and culture

Collaboration is a word that gets thrown around in business without much meaning. Innovation ideas are seldom the ideas of a ‘solo genius’. Start with making innovation a priority, not a project, so that innovation becomes the core of your organisation and culture.

Encourage non-judgemental sharing of ideas, insights and observations. Encourage regular open dialogue of ideas from your entire team. Perhaps a monthly review of ideas submitted from across the business. Energy breeds ideas, so celebrate the runs, not just the goals.

Pay Attention

Get out from behind the desk. Observe your customer. Identify any patterns that might provide insights into their needs. A prime example here is the headrest on aeroplanes. This idea resulted from a flight attendant watching passenger’s heads drop every time they slept during a flight.

The attendant submitted a suggestion for a solution and the headrest was the result. If the passengers were asked what they needed, do you think they could they have come up with a headrest idea? I don't believe so. Innovation at its core is observation and patterns. A consumer doesn't always know what they need.

Get out and watch your customers. For example, if you’re a food manufacturer go to grocery stores and observe the choices the consumer is making. Are there any patterns?

Gain Insights

Speaking with your customer is another powerful way to unlock innovative ideas. Ask them what frustrates them. What problems do they have? Enquire about what should you stop doing. What do you keep doing? And what you should start doing? Talking to customers has always been a priority for me as an innovative leader.

Many leaders, particularly the old-school kind, tend to sit in their ivory towers. Many senior managers have not spoken to their customers, in years. Without your customer, you don’t have a business. Put the customer at the centre of everything you do and innovation will become an organic process in your organisation.

In summary

  • Leadership behaviour is the starting point for creating a culture of innovation
  • Set up a process for innovation within your organisation. Innovation is a process, and process needs structure
  • Develop a culture of innovation where your team apply innovative thinking to solve problems and develop new products and services
  • get out from behind your desk so you can observe and talk to your customer

Innovative leaders are the future of business.