3 Ways to Re-ignite Innovation & Develop Breakthrough Technology

Kristen McAlister, President/COO, Cerius Interim Executive Solutions

Kristen McAlister, President/COO, Cerius Interim Executive Solutions

In the age of globalization and the web, products and services evolve from being unique to becoming a commodity in a very short period of time. This puts tremendous pressure on technology organizations to continually innovate in order to maintain relevance, competitiveness, and high margins.

“Organizations need to have a strong product management or product marketing function responsible for defining market requirements, identifying industry trends, and writing the go-to-market plan”

While new technology and product innovation is typically relied upon to be competitive, particularly in the IT industry, some of the biggest technology companies today anticipate having to lay off over 260,000 jobs. Why are so many large technology companies, with vast resources and so much to lose, failing to stay competitive?

The primary challenge technology giants have been faced with is their approach to innovation. What might have worked the first time doesn’t always work two-to-five years later or after acquiring companies and new technology.

Innovation comes in many shapes and sizes and can fuel both internal and external drivers. Companies of all sizes are increasingly looking for on-demand talent to address innovation strategies for executing product migration from a lagging industry to another on the rise, and for creating innovation roadmaps for the company.

Following are three ways you can ignite innovation within your organization and develop your next breakthrough technology.

1. Look Beyond The Product.

CEOs wanting to re-ignite innovation need to look beyond the product itself. Look at the internal processes that create and build the product or service. Then look at the customer-facing processes of the organization. Creativity at streamlining or revamping these processes can ignite more effective customer and partner communications to create a competitive advantage.

2. Infuse Customer-centric Product Management.

Systematically integrate customer input into your R&D for products and services. There are several ways to accomplish this, but be aware that simply asking customers what features they want can lead you to miss big market opportunities. Organizations need to have a strong product management or product marketing function responsible for defining market requirements, identifying industry trends, and writing the go-to-market plan. This function is also responsible for communicating market requirements to those responsible for engineering, building and delivering the product or service. Depending on the size of your company the product management role might be an entire department, one dedicated individual, or an interim manager brought in for a period of time to pull together the product and go-to-market plans.

The product manager function needs quality input from marketing, sales and customer service–the individuals who have the most customer contact.

At least once a year, develop a survey and ask your current, prospective and past customers how they feel about your product or service; and develop a written plan to address those findings and improve and capitalize on what you are doing correctly.

The best way to innovate is to follow a process known as “job-to-be-done.”  Rather than ask customers what features they want, ask what job they want done. In their responses you will see the issues they face in their job and the problems they are trying to solve. With a clear definition of several jobs to be done, your R&D team can think outside the box and figure out how to do the job for the customer. This will lead to innovation rather than just incremental improvement.

3. Incorporate Objectivity, Expertise, and Experience

It doesn’t matter how objective you believe yourself to be about your company, you will never be as objective as someone coming in from the outside. That’s not a failing on your part; it’s just that your experiences are deposited in your mind like residue. They’re necessary, but they’re not objective.

An outside resource with a variety of experiences and expertise can help reinvent, rather than reuse product and go-to-market strategies needed to move from being “part” of the market to “making” the market.

Innovation is deliberate. You need to apply information and imagination to get something different from the same resources. Don’t be afraid to consider talent from outside your particular industry. It won’t be a polar opposite, but myopia can occur as much within an industry as it can within a company. Having a fresh perspective is an effective innovation driver. It discards old, tired ideas, freeing up the team to get creative.

Innovation is not just for companies who feel they have gone stale. Renowned physicist, Dr. William Pollard, said, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

Consider this: Regardless of the great things your company has already done, they’re not as great as what it has not yet accomplished. Continuing to apply deliberate innovation strategies to your company’s roadmap can keep you ahead of the game rather than becoming obsolete.

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