“The roots of great innovation are never just in the technology itself. They are always in the wider historical context. They require new ways of seeing.”
— David Brooks, The New York Times
Every business is striving to innovate: to keep pace with new challenges, to meet customer demand, or to satisfy a board that wants to increase market share. And although technology itself is often seen as innovation, it is really just an enabler.
While it’s no big secret that — to keep up with change — businesses need to find new ways to innovate, it’s slow and difficult to turn a large ship around. With every industry being challenged — in many cases by small firms that are using technology to pioneer new business models — how do successful large firms keep up with the pace of change?
We worked with the Economist Intelligence Unit to find out, asking 200 business leaders of large UK companies why and how they innovate.
Embracing the need to innovate
Disruption is forcing big companies to become more agile and it’s encouraging to see that the UK’s largest enterprises are not shirking away from the challenges in front of them. Nearly half (49 percent) of business leaders believe their organisation’s business model has changed substantially over the last three years, and almost a quarter (22 percent) say it has changed entirely.
In fact, most large organisations (57 percent) see innovation as a “critical factor” for firms today. And almost half (47 percent) believe those organisations that don’t undertake significant business innovation will not survive.
Innovation is a state of constant fluctuation, but it doesn’t need to be risky. Harnessed correctly, the whirlwind of change can become business as usual. This is when organisations see real value.
With nearly half (42 percent) of respondents expecting to change their dominant business model substantially in the next three years — and a further quarter (23 percent) expecting to change it entirely — innovation will quickly become the norm.
It’s in this evolutionary business model that technology has the greatest role to play. But this is also where many businesses can slip up — investing in the wrong places or trying to introduce new tools as an exact replacement for the old.
Rather than trying to start innovation with a long-term or “big bang” project, businesses should focus on incremental changes. Starting with a small amount of change helps organisations overcome resistance to change and fear of the unknown, two of the biggest organisational barriers to innovation projects. It also helps create proof — of both concept and value — allowing business leaders to learn from previous success (or failure) and build on this next time.
Taking this approach helps businesses find a practical way to make innovation work. And we’ve seen many routes to success. From hackathons — where no idea is bad and companies can easily involve their staff — to automation-driven environments designed for safe experimentation, to data-driven user experience design, business leaders can think about innovation in many ways.
Having a trusted partner is also vital. While businesses shouldn’t try to outsource innovation itself, they can find partners who will provide an external perspective on their challenges, and show new ways to overcome them.
This is how we work with our customers at Rackspace — getting to know their businesses and empowering them with tools and expertise to ensure the smooth running of day-to-day operations so they can focus on unlocking creative potential and driving innovation.
As innovation and disruption become business as usual, organisations shouldn’t see them as risky. With the right planning, partners and process, they can become a core part of everyday operations, and help businesses overcome threats from their peers and smaller, disruptive start-ups.
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