Why is innovation important? How to create ideas and make them happen

 I was excited to open a large parcel. Inside, there were five large green boxes. My starter kit for my MBA programme had arrived.

Little did I know that 23 years later, I would be running my own business in Singapore having worked in a range of jobs, industries and sectors across the corporate, political, NGO and start-up world.

While much of the content from my MBA programme faded with time, the thinking skills, practical application and disciplined mind set that I developed provided the much-needed mental muscle to cope with so much change. 

We know that what we experienced in the past will pale in comparison to what will happen and the speed with which it will hit us. This is why our ability to innovate or to rapidly create value out of new ideas is important. Automation, artificial intelligence and robotics will sweep through the white-collar work on which we depend, and even what we consider high order knowledge will, in many cases, become redundant. To stay relevant, we will need to be agile, adaptive, creative, disciplined and have advanced social skills.

It is one thing to intellectually acknowledge this, it is another to actually prepare oneself with a strategic and tactical plan about what to do about it. Here is a six-stage process, that I call the 6 ‘I’s of Innovation, to help you think things through.
 
1. IDENTIFY

Get curious and IDENTIFY where there could be an opportunity to do something new for the immediate term (now), the short term (next few months) and the long term (the end of the year / next year).

Key Questions to ask yourself:

Short term
Where are there quick wins to create more efficiency and productivity in my current ways of doing business?

Mid term
What customer group is emerging for us right now? How could I repurpose what I already have to create a new offering for a market that I am not yet serving?

Long term
What are the big changes that are coming on the horizon for my business that could shift how things operate today? What will be the implications for me in the longer term?

Write down your thoughts and think through why things need to change. For each, what is the problem you are trying to solve? What would be the PURPOSE of exploring these opportunities?

2. IGNITE

Take each opportunity and get creativeIGNITE ideas for the areas you have identified.

Challenge your assumptions and see with a fresh perspective. What new ideas did it spark?

3. INVESTIGATE

Get critical. Stand back and INVESTIGATE. How feasible do you think your ideas could be? Don’t throw out an idea just because it may be difficult. INVESTIGATE them with potential customers and stakeholders and try them out.

4. INVEST

Be courageousINVEST time and effort.

Think through the ideas and assess which ones are going to deliver the most value for the least cost. If an idea has high benefit and low cost, do it. If an idea has high benefit but high cost, explore how you could make it work, it might save you time and money in the long run. Take a calculated risk.

5. IMPLEMENT

Move into action. IMPLEMENT. Stay committed. Pick one easy idea and one harder one. Work out a plan to IMPLEMENT the new ideas. Who do you need to help you? Be lean and prioritise. Don’t mistake being busy with being productive. Work out a way to track your plan.

6. IMPROVE

Be clever. What has the innovation process taught you? How have things changed? How could you IMPROVE on what you have done? What would you do differently next time? 

Finally, revisit your original PURPOSE. Were your new ideas in line with your PURPOSE? What value have you created? Did it generate what you envisaged in your mind? If not, why not? 

Don’t fall into the trap of only focusing on what is in the present, at the expense of the mid or the long term. Our ability to innovate is a business process like any other, it needs clear thinking and a clear process on how to generate new ideas and make them work. Use the 6 ‘I’s to help you think through the opportunities you have IDENTIFIED. Write up a plan and don’t let urgent day-to-day demands crowd out strategic focus for the future. You want to stay relevant, responsive and ready for change.


Natalie Turner is an award-winning author, keynote speaker, inventor of The 6 I's of Innovation and founder of Women who Lead, a retreat experience and professional development service for female executives.