The Silver Bullet of Innovation

The Silver Bullet of Innovation

From classics like The Wolf Man to comedic takes like An American Werewolf in London, the werewolf has a long history in film. The creature usually has one fatal weakness – silver. Often its a silver bullet that slays the creature and saves the day.

This time of year, overcoming organizational inertia to drive revenue growth, productivity or new product innovation might feel a bit like trying to slay a werewolf; but, you can’t just load a silver bullet into your revolver, fire and defeat the beast. Your organization needs to be ready. There is no silver bullet.

Innovation is not simply a strategy or a “thing” – it is an outcome of a complex, dynamic interaction of culture, talent, process and creativity that spans all operations within your organization. It is nimble, often chaotic and enabled by collisions of divergent thinking.

Is your company ready to innovate? Here are ten questions to consider, spanning corporate functions, when trying to answer that question and assess your readiness.

1. Is IT an enabler of business transformation in your organization? As Paul Coby, CIO, British Airways said, “There are no IT projects, just business projects. IT departments bring technological advice to the table to help a business improve.” The transformation he led is the stuff of MBA case studies. He set and mandated transformational targets aligned to four key objectives: (1) deliver a robust and reliable worldwide IT operation, 24×7, at lower cost; (2) deliver the systems on time; (3) deliver year-on-year productivity improvements; and (4) simplify the business by the smart use of IT.

2. Does the business understand IT? Does IT understand the business? According to a recent KPMG survey, 38% of CEOs are concerned that their organization is not using technology as effectively as they could to connect with customers. Cross-pollinating talent between IT and market-facing organizations in the business can yield an improved customer experience.

3. Has your organization adopted agile IT delivery? If not, how can it? Interestingly, agile not only benefits IT delivery, as the Harvard Business Review points out, the same principles and approach applied across an organization can greatly improve the efficiency of marketing, HR and other corporate functions.

4. Has your company answered the control vs. capital paradox? For scaling up companies, finding the balance between retaining control and securing the capital required to drive long-term growth can be a tough to achieve. The wrong investor has derailed many a company. Conversely, bootstrapping long term growth from profits alone can limit innovation – creating uncertainty for product roadmaps, ambiguity for departmental budgets and challenges for retaining talent. These challenges are particularly acute in industries with long, B2B sales cycles.

5. Does your company embrace experimentation? If you’re not familiar with the 3M story, you can check out a great summary of it in Fast Company. 3M is best-in-class at experimentation. They have a “15% time” program that allows employees to use a portion of their paid time to chase rainbows and develop their own ideas. Post-It notes came out of this program; off the side of a desk.

6. Is customer feedback integrated into your R&D? Even in small organizations with limited capabilities, R&D resources should be dedicated to proactively obtain customer feedback. Since R&D (and product management) are not the ultimate users of your product, you should also involve customers in structured product brainstorming sessions. Best practices include: (1) simulating the customer environment, (2) seizing active engagement points like change requests and surveys to research the customer and (3) engaging customers as design partners, beta testers, and early adopters as early and often as possible.

7. Does your organization have a diverse talent pool? A truly diverse team is 45% more likely to grow market share and 70% more likely to capture a new market. This makes sense – if innovation is the product of collisions, and collisions only occur between opposing objects, then diversity is required to create innovation.

8. Does your organization accept failure and learn from it? The growing acceptance of smart, planned failure is changing the way companies approach innovation. The best organizations clearly define and distinguish between what is acceptable and unacceptable failure. Drawing this distinction offers two broad benefits: (1) it gives managers a tool to build a non-punitive environment for mistake making and (2) it allows managers to promote the sort of productive mistake making that is the basis for learning what will work next time.

9. Has your organization committed to thought leadership? As early as 2010, the Gartner Group identified thought leadership marketing as a major business trend that has rapidly become an established field in marketing and a basis of competitive differentiation when well-informed buyers see little perceived differences between solution providers. This is especially the case with SMBs where sales can be heavily driven by relationships and the reputation of the executive team. When the organization pushes up against its natural boundaries, sales falter and a commitment to thought leadership is needed to grow further.

10. Who owns the customer experience (CX)? When people say marketing owns CX, it ignores the fact that customers generally reach our to sales to talk about the brand or service when there is a problem. As Tiffani Bova, Salesforce’s Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist says, the most important question to ask is not who owns CX, but has the organization made CX its true north? CX has to be part of the company’s DNA and leaders have to be clear about what that means. In best-in-class companies, leaders put improving CX at the center of innovating.

Chris Crowell, Chief Marketing Officer – Mariner Partners. He is responsible for developing go-to-market strategy, building partnerships and providing direction on how Mariner can deliver the most value to its customers. Prior to joining Mariner, Chris built the Worldwide Licensing organization at OpenText and led business development for NeuLion across North America, Australia and Europe.  He holds a degree in Mass Communications from Carleton University and a L.L.B and MBA from Dalhousie University where he was named the Outstanding Young Alumnus in 2007 for his work as founder of East Coast Connected and organizer of the Atlantic Business Summits in Toronto. Chris is an active mentor in the start-up community in both Atlantic Canada and Waterloo.

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