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How Can You Use Innovation to Become an Industry Leader?

Guest Post

To outsiders, the term innovation can seem like another empty buzzword, but as a CEO in a world where technology is driving market competition, you know that innovation is essential. Even traditional forecasting models, like the five-year plan, are increasingly irrelevant as the pace of technology in- creases and more companies are disrupting markets that were once considered unchangeable.

Keeping up can prove challenging, especially if you are continuing to rely solely on internal personnel. Currently, the key to innovation is to go beyond existing resources and seek ideas from external sources, while also developing a budget that makes room for innovation, so that you can focus on growth rather than simply trying to stay afloat. This might sound like an intimidating undertaking, but here’s my advice…

Know your market
.  A lengthy research and development process simply won’t cut it in today’s business world. While you may be working to move an idea to production in three years, your competitors are already using external resources and software technology to leapfrog you. By the time you are ready to enter experimental phases, they may be poised for a full launch.

You need to know what your competitors are up to and think about where your market might be head- ed. Imagine the worst scenario. What product or service could your competitor design and offer that would completely disrupt your market and upset your business? That should be your biggest concern, and reason enough to invest time and money in innovation.

Don’t be afraid to seek help from external resources
. While you may be actively working on cultivating an environment that promotes innovation, you might not quite be there yet. Instead of continuing to rely on internal resources, it may be time to consider speeding up the process by bringing external experts on board. They can provide training and workshops and decrease the time it takes to go from idea to production. Bridging certain gaps by investing in consulting services can prevent great ideas from getting stuck in the pipeline.

Don’t assume that you can’t compete with the big guys.  You can leverage the power of technology and outside resources to fast-track the research and development process and avoid getting left behind as large organizations introduce disruptive products and services. This will allow you to focus on growth, instead of fighting to stay relevant as industries evolve. By investing in the right people and tools, you can research what your competitors are working on and whether you need to move on to your next big idea. Remember, today’s solutions are adaptable and scalable, so a startup can have the same disruptive effect as a giant like Amazon.

Get to know your existing staff a little bit better.  When you are running a large organization, it can be difficult to track the progress and potential
of each employee and make sure that they are matched up with the right projects. You have to rely on project managers to put together dream teams, and make sure that everyone feels comfort- able sharing ideas in a corporate hierarchy where it can feel intimidating to make suggestions. Chances are that some of your staff is being underutilized and stuck on assignments that don’t speak to their skills. The key to innovation may already be on your payroll, and you aren’t even aware of their talents.

Make sure that your innovation and corporate strategy are the same.  If innovation has traditionally been a more organic process with less structure, then you will need to make sure that your corporate strategy aligns with your innovation strategy. You probably have a clear vision of the direction you want to take the company, but you also need a plan that will get you there. The more you work innovation into your budget and make room for this important tool, the more you will be able to lay down a path to your goals, sup- ported by the appropriate funds and research.

Embrace open innovation.  Companies appear to be comfortable with the idea of cyber or tech scouting for external ideas and individual experts to add to a project. However, there seems to be more discomfort with and resistance to the idea of open innovation, where problems and challenges are presented to a global audience that can submit ideas and even collaborate with one another in order to create new solutions.

Using this technology, companies can receive outside perspectives that help to break out of the insular thinking that can happen in corporate environments. With the right open innovation software and tools, companies can easily filter through and score submissions and decide which solutions are worth pursuing. All this can be done in a safe and secure environment where intellectual property is protected. Open innovation provides a great way to collaborate with a much wider audience.

Be smart about your budget.  When it comes to your household budget, you probably keep track of what you are spending and can easily identify areas to cut back. So why not take the same approach with your corporate budget? If it isn’t within your means to invest in your own research and development space, look into renting space from larger labs. This is a simple way that big corporations lend a hand to startups and smaller businesses.

Another great idea is to take advantage of interns who are working on their Master’s or PhD degrees. You may be able to use them to fill in certain gaps. In addition, internships provide a great way to cultivate future employees.

Innovation is the driving force behind business, and it requires both intelligent strategies and budgeting. You need to cultivate an environment for innovation by recruiting the right external resources, taking full advantage of existing employees, and providing your entire team with the tools they need to collaborate and communicate. All of this requires money and resources. Your corporate budget must make room for innovation, because it is a sure bet that your competition is already working on the next evolution that will shake up your industry.

Guest post by Denise Fletcher, CIO at Ezassi

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