Ian Cook, CEO at Logicalis, explores the vital role that collaboration and communication tools and technologies can play in enabling a business culture in which everyday ideas and inspiration can have as great an impact as organised, strategic innovation projects.
Innovation. It is surely one of the 21st Century’s most over-used words. I’d also argue it is somewhat mis-used, or at least has gained a rather narrow definition. Innovation has come to mean big ideas in product design, in service delivery and so on, driven by an overarching and explicit strategy.
I think that is only part of the picture. Clearly, that ‘organised innovation’ has given rise to a multitude of important ideas, big and small. But people don’t stop having ideas when they walk out of a brainstorm or a strategy meeting – in fact, history is littered with tales of inspiration striking at the most unlikely times.
Room for left field
You could ask why it matters – and that would be a valid question if you think innovation should be driven solely from the top of an organisation, shaped by strategy and market forces.
Innovation guided by strategy is clearly fundamental to business success – but there should always be room for the left field, for inspiration and imagination.
And it’s not just about big ideas. On occasion, changing the smallest detail – detail that is practically invisible from the strategic point of view – can have a disproportionate impact.
I think most forward thinking business leaders would agree that, big or small, if an idea is a good one, it doesn’t matter whether it comes out of formal R&D, or is dreamt up and jotted down on a flight or at 2am on a sleepless night.
What really matters is what happens next – how that kernel of an idea is captured, explored, tested and, if it still looks good, implemented. That process, if it starts at all, will more often than not kick off with informal collaboration – a conversation over lunch, in a corridor, at the water cooler, a phone call to a colleague and so on.
And therein lies the problem, the reason why 99.99% of those ideas never see the light of day.
For a great many businesses, harnessing that everyday creativity is hard enough in a single office. So, naturally enough, the idea of making it work across different business units, regions, languages, time zones, suppliers and outsourcing partners seems like the stuff of science fiction.
Small wonder, then, that ‘innovation’ is viewed as an organised, strategic activity, driven from the top down.
Clearly, technology alone cannot create a culture in which everyday ideas and inspiration are put to work, rather than forgotten or ignored. But it can play a powerful enabling role – and the tools and technologies to do just that are available, affordable and highly effective.
Indeed, forward thinking organisations are adopting a variety of powerful, IP-enabled, advanced communication tools – Voice-over-IP (VoIP), audio, video and web conferencing, instant messaging, unified messaging, enterprise social platforms, immersive video and presence capabilities.
With good reason. All enhance employees’ ability to access resources or expert input, which speeds up decision making and, just as importantly, enables both formal and informal collaboration – wherever people are, and whether they work for the business, within its supply chain or for an outsourcing partner.
The benefits of enabling, and encouraging, that kind of collaborative working are manifold. For instance:
- Innovation can be driven by inspiration as well as strategy, by informal, as well as formal collaboration.
- Team performance can be optimised by strengthening relationships across time zones and cultures – for instance encouraging participation and the pooling of knowledge and expertise through the use of communities
- Costs can be saved by conducting multi-territory and/or multi-supplier meetings virtually.
Of course, realising those benefits is not a foregone conclusion.
The key is to select the right combination of communication tools and technologies – after all unless people use them, they are just so many more icons on the desktop – and putting in place the right communication and collaboration tools is one innovation that really does require a top down strategic view.
So, if you are interested in harnessing the power of everyday innovation, amongst an array of benefits, look out for a follow up post setting out some of the key considerations that should inform that selection process.
In the meantime, tell us what you think… (Harnessing innovation part 2 now available)