Are you innovating? Or, are you just keeping the status quo for now… until “one day” when you’ll have the time, or money, or people, or other necessary resources, to tackle innovation?
If you’ve ever felt like you’d like to innovate, or maybe even that you should innovate, but for whatever reason, you just can’t do it right now, this blog post is for you.
The Big Myth About Innovation
First of all, we need to blast a big myth: that innovation needs to be big.
It’s a myth, but we often get sucked into it because we hear about it all the time:
EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it!!
Uber blew up the ground transportation industry by leveraging the “sharing economy“…
Amazon is pushing the e-commerce envelope (again) by introducing same-day delivery (and the drones haven’t even taken flight)…
These are the types of innovation stories that make the news and generate all the buzz. And indeed, they are stories worth talking about and learning from.
But these are not the stories that represent everyday innovation.
“I want to break the myth that innovation is monolithic, that it’s large, that it necessarily takes a lot of time or money because it truly doesn’t,” said Ken Tencer, innovation speaker and author of Cause a Disturbance, when I spoke to him on The Better Life/Better Business Podcast.
“All innovation is, is about having an idea and bringing it to market, commercializing it,” Ken said. “That can be a small idea or that can be a very large revolutionary one.”
Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or whether you’re running a small to mid-sized business, you can be a breakthrough innovator, according to Ken.
Three Types of Innovation
To break the “innovation has to be big” myth, one thing we need to do is recognize that there are three types of innovation:
- Process innovation.
- Product innovation.
- Service innovation.
“One of the reasons of people think that innovation is monolithic because they think of the large product announcements,” Ken said. “I actually start, I focus on process innovation. That’s really the way you make things, you deliver them to your customers and it creates a lot of delight and satisfaction if you do it properly. It can also save you an incredible amount of money.”
ACTIONABLE IDEA: Where might there be opportunities to innovate within your current processes–without even thinking about a new product or service?
A Great Innovation You’ve Never Heard Of
As an example of a successful process innovation, Ken shared the example of American Airlines.
“I think of their Fuel Smart program,” Ken said. “About 10 years ago, as the cost of fuel started to skyrocket, they said to their employees, ‘We need to find simple ways to save money on our fuel.'”
Ideas started flowing, and many were pure process innovation, like…
“When our jets are taxiing, we’re going to do it on one engine instead of two.”
Or, “When we’re moving our jets out of the hangars to the gates, let’s use the tow motors. Let’s not fire up the engines earlier.”
Those aren’t the types of innovations that make the headlines, but over 10 years, American Airlines has saved over $1 billion by doing “boring” little things like shutting down an engine and using a tow motor.
KEY REMINDER: In addition to reminding us that innovations don’t have to be big and sexy, it also reminds us that innovations don’t have to cost money; they can actually save money.
Get Everyone Involved
Not only did American Airlines save over a billion dollars through their process innovation, but they did it, Ken pointed out, the best way possible: “by engaging their employees, the people who know what’s going on in the company, who can help you come up with these incredible ideas.”
You see, standing between the C-suite and the customer might be five employees, or 250 thousand employees. No matter how many, these are people with “incredible ideas, incredible insights,” who can help you build a better business.
Not only does getting your people involved bring out the best ideas, but perhaps more importantly, it creates an environment where they feel truly engaged in the business. Ken calls this intrapreneurship–fostering a sense of ownership among the employees, so they show up motivated to make improvements just as an owner would.
Ken referenced a recent study by the Disney Institute and McKinsey that showed “a direct line between happy employees or engaged employees [and] happy customers and revenue growth.”
Of course, beyond boosting employee morale, this also carries over to attracting top talent to your business–especially top young talent.
“The middle agers,” Ken said, “we’re taught to keep our noses down and keep one foot in front of the other.”
The younger generation, though, wants to be heard, since they’ve been raised on coming up with and discussing ideas.
“A great company today is going to have to give them an outlet to be creative, to discuss, to be part of the conversation,” Ken said. “If you do that, (a) you obviously have more opportunity for innovation and ideas, and (b) you are going to attract better people and you’re going to retain them because they’re going to feel good about what they’re doing.”
ACTIONABLE IDEA: Are you inviting your employees to share their ideas about how to improve your processes?
So, you see, innovation doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be complicated. And the next great money-making or money-saving idea may be just one “ask” away.
If you’d like more help getting the innovative ideas flowing in your business, you can hire Ken for your next meeting, conference, or leadership retreat, and he’ll share specific strategies and tactics to create a culture of innovation.