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Dec 18

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Toyin Wura Oke

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The Innovation Process – How to Embrace the New, While Reforming The Old

The Innovation Process – How to Embrace the New, While Reforming The Old

The Fuel of the 21st Century Entrepreneur is innovation. An enterprise in slumber will eventually be among the back benchers, assuming it does not become extinct. Innovation is the key to sustaining and growing a business.-TSH

What are the imperatives for managing an enterprise particularly the SME in the light of multidimensional inadequacies and frequent difficulties (competition, economic, social, political etc) in our environment for instance?

When you consider the battle for survival that the SME is daily involved in, the issue will be appreciated. It has been stated by researchers that as many as 9 out of 10 new SMEs die at infancy (within the first three years). Indeed, SMEs operate under an extremely tight and competitive operational environment. The above scenario therefore lends credence to the idea that only the innovative enterprise will endure and grow.

The Concept of Innovation

As one of the most potent means for achieving stability, innovation when used as a way of positioning an enterprise would normally pay off. The business world, and indeed human kind, is dynamic. In the fast changing environment that we live, an enterprise must continue to reposition itself, not only to combat the environmental challenges, especially competition, but also to achieve a market niche and be hedged against business decline. An effective enterprise must essentially design the systematic abandonment of yesterday through effective innovation of new products, new processes and update means.

However, we need not be so optimistic; innovation as a means (though a science) is not always scientific; results on innovative moves are usually unpredictable. Thus, the needed concepts differ from one industry to another, and are sometimes peculiar to individual environments.

In truth, related ideas on what to introduce as innovative products/processes, when to so do and how to anticipate tomorrow’s markets and technology are not particularly theoretical, although one might learn from instances.  It basically remains a function of the leaders - the entrepreneur herself. To the SME, the entrepreneur must play the guide and in essence lead the way.  Innovation depends on the disposition of the entrepreneur and it’s the most powerful means for renewing a business.

In reality, the starting point for successful innovation in an SME is the related leader/entrepreneur – her philosophy and her ability to deliberately promote and accept the innovative attitude as a perpetual means in the business. This is particularly so considering the turbulent nature in our contemporary setting.

An effective entrepreneur must add value to existing products, find lower cost of supply and operations. 

Generally, explore more cost effective ways of doing business for the purpose of lowering unit cost of products or services. She should search and locate new leads for tomorrow’s opportunities or breakthroughs.

A new enterprise should simply turn its products from ordinary to spectacular, through innovation, thereby grabbing some market share from competitors. It may not be in your interest to compete head-on with the bigger and more established companies.

Consider the ingenuity in Cowbell’s break of bulk powdered milk into small sachets early in the 90s. They carved a new market by innovation.

 Image: Tansel Ali

Image: Tansel Ali

The Innovation Process 

Let's start by understanding Innovation 

Key Points -

1. Innovation must be company-wide. It must be a norm in the enterprise. The spirit and habit of innovating should be all inclusive; management must encourage the liberty for team members to bring forward ideas. It is advised that from recruitment stage, job applicants with talent and creativity should be considered for key positions during screening. The company should then create a conducive environment for workers to foster. The company should develop its culture and ideology, which should be infused in every worker and every space, thus ensuring the right orientation. Benchmarking the large enterprises is allowed - Consider the pronouncement of Guinness Nigeria Plc:

"To continue to innovate and grow, the company needs to maintain a strong team of people performing at the top of their game. Through strategic recruitment of the best talents in Nigeria and the Diaspora, the introduction of innovative human resources tools and processes, and made-to-measure training programs, the company helps employees hone their skills and apply them on the job".

2. To be able to Innovate you must know - Why the present products? Why the current market? Who are the current customers and who will they be tomorrow?  What market segments are there? What opportunities are there in each? Are there any changing patterns in customers’ behavior? Where is the present market?  Where will the future market be? What does the customer want now?

What is value to him? What will he require tomorrow? How best can the product be made available to customers today? How should it be presented and distributed in future, perhaps in the light of changing technology?

How do we surmount the apparent environmental threats? How can the weaknesses of competitors be exploited? How can the strengths of competitors be adopted? How do we surmount the weaknesses in our operations?

3.Innovation is daring the unknown and never afraid of failure. Pepsi Academy of Football was established by the 7-UP Bottling Company in Nigeria basically as a futuristic move. Perhaps to create a rare kind of goodwill for the brand, especially among the youths.

4.Innovation is continuous anticipation of tomorrow. This Day Newspaper in Nigeria applied technology to beat competition using real-time on-line printing of her newspapers in Abuja despite the relatively low population when compared to Lagos for instance. The Company anticipated that there is a great tomorrow and a vast market in the new city of Abuja. Thus, leaving competitors lagging behind.

5.Innovation is seeking to differentiate between yesterday’s products and markets (obsolete); and tomorrow’s (promising) business direction in products, processes and markets. Discerning banks in Nigeria are directly promoting electronic banking using high tech ICT means in order to improve customer service, gain goodwill and be ahead of competition.

6. Innovation seeks to discover and take action in relation to: weaknesses in the current operation; untapped opportunities; new products for existing market; new market for existing products; new uses for present product; new users for present products; new markets for new products

7. Innovation accepts high rate of failure and encourages many trials.       

8. Innovation is a whole company affair and should not be related to some parts of it alone.

9. Innovation is open-ended since other market factors - the economy, Customers’ expectations and their behaviour, competition, government policy etc, are all dynamic.

10. Innovation is seeking means to overcome environmental threats, gross imperfections and   inadequacies around us.

11. Innovation is about gaining advantage in the market

 Image: mumbrella

Image: mumbrella

How Many Innovative Ideas Should You Consider?

One basic issue in an innovative enterprise is the acceptance of the numerous (sometimes silly) ideas and the encouragement of many possibilities, some initially considered as wild. An  innovative management team would listen, consider and sometimes re-mould the relevant contributions to arrive at the final result. It is the one out of a hundred concepts put forward that eventually lead to the much needed breakthrough.

However, the generation of fresh ideas alone does not necessarily lead to successful innovation; other factors must also be present for success to be achieved. The following are recommended for innovative ideas to hit a breakthrough:

a. Idealists otherwise known as champions must be encouraged to voice out their initiatives

b. People’s ideas may fly in different (sometimes wild) directions, this must be tolerated; restrictions must be avoided.

c. You can encourage informal brainstorming sessions.

d. Lots of trials should be permitted; many of the ideas may not work initially, but could lead to other discoveries which will enhance the ultimate finding.

e. Ad hoc arrangements including various teams and task forces could be applied for the realization of the goal. Autonomy of experiments should be encouraged.

f. Rewards, especially in form of recognition should be in practice. This should be combined with cash awards

g. A group headed by the volunteer champion could be the means of working to realize the          idea.

h. The use of suggestion boxes could enhance the generation of ideas. Acknowledgment of every suggestion received through these Box would improve the number and quality of ideas

i. Informal and flexible lines of communication should be encouraged. This will promote the inclusive method where everyone has a voice

j. To be successful, leadership support to innovation is critical

Product and Marketing Success through Innovation: Innovation could be the basis of survival in a highly competitive industry; as an entrepreneur, you should apply it to every aspect of the business. But the areas where innovation must largely be applied are in the product and the marketing functions. This is due to the challenges of competition and the factor (relatively speaking) of short product life cycle. Moreover, a market, a product or even a whole industry if left static, could eventually decline as a result of sundry reasons - new technology, changing customer needs, changing tastes, fashion etc. Indeed, yesterday’s markets and the characteristics and features are totally different from today's, and will certainly not be the same tomorrow.

 

Mr. Bioye Akinfolarin is a Fellow, Member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria; an entrepreneur and a practicing management Consultant.  He is the author of the book, 'Comprehensive Enterprise Management

 

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