In this final installment of the corporate innovation blog series, we’ll take a look at why it’s important for innovators to anticipate and fulfill needs by aligning their development agendas to market insights, and how this leads to business growth.
Business Innovation vs. Technology Innovation
Innovative organizations always have several low-cost technology experiments going on; having lots of irons in the fire helps companies explore emerging trends without a strict plan. The freedom to experiment at that level is a must, and leads to the development of true “technology innovation.”
However, technology innovation by itself is not enough. Many new technologies look promising in the lab, but if they don’t solve a specific customer pain point and lead to a positive business outcome, the innovation will fail in the market. Many organizations do a good job of creating technology that could be the “next big thing.” But then they fail. Why? In many cases, it is because new ideas are suppressed due to a culture of command. In other cases, innovators fail to define their idea’s value proposition: They don’t have a successful business model, or a solid framework to validate the concept and define what real user requirements customers value and want.
When innovators march forward without focusing on the market, they deliver solutions that are looking for problems to solve, which helps no one. The ultimate goal of any company is business growth, and the outcome of technical innovations must lead to it.
Forecasting the Future and Anticipating the Puck
“When somebody asked Wayne Gretzky how he was so much better than other players, he said ‘Good players go where the puck is, great players run to where the puck is going to be.’”
The famous Gretzky quote often applies to innovation: Anticipating customer problems and market direction is the equivalent of predicting where the puck will go. Companies and intrapreneurs who can provide innovations that fill customer needs are the ones that score points. There are many ways to innovate:
- Business Innovation
Align technology innovations to develop new business growth
Leverage existing or new technologies to create new solutions through partnerships
Instead of looking at the outcome of technology innovation in silos, explore opportunities to integrate outcomes to solve customer problems
When intrapreneurs apply the same level of creative energy to develop business value as they do to technology innovation, new products and businesses emerge – ultimately leading to corporate growth.
Large Company Advantage
Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” I agree, but the key is to listen to customer’s pains instead of requirements. Intrapreneurs in large organizations have several advantages that allow them to predict where the puck is going, act on these insights, and have a better chance of success by moving first. Unlike their startup contemporaries, large companies have the financial backing and human resources to bring their products to market quickly. Credibility in the marketplace, a large customer base to test ideas on, and an experienced and well-developed sales force, are all key advantages corporations have in gaining a competitive edge in the market.
The need to maintain existing product lines and cater to a large customer base is often used as an excuse for a company’s inability to innovate. However, this is a downright incorrect presumption: Having access to a large customer base is a big opportunity to tap into the minds of customers and potential early adopters who are eager to provide valuable feedback on new ideas.
Harnessing the brainpower of early adopters at the ideation stage leads to successful innovations. Market intelligence, corporate strategy, and industry analysts are also great sources of information. Intrapreneurs need access into the many resources at large companies in order to develop better intuition about market insights through observation and understanding. Being in between a current strategy and a breakaway agenda is stressful for intrapreneurs. However, it’s a healthy kind of stress. Ideally, you can align innovative initiatives with corporate strategies and not have to sacrifice one or the other, but it’s usually a balancing act.
Any company that wishes to succeed must have a long-term vision and strategy. Given the future’s unpredictable nature, the only reliable strategy a corporation has is its ability to create and adapt to changes. Developing an innovative company should not be an add-on or superficial consideration – it is an essential part of business success, as critical to a company as its finances and operations, and it should be regarded as such. Understanding what makes innovation work within large organizations can help companies take the first steps towards real long-term success.
BMC Software has been innovating for decades, but after going private, the company has been cultivating innovation on an uncommon scale, challenging the industry to “think different” and bringing forward a refreshingly nimble approach to creativity in large companies.