Spotify, Voi, Uber… there is no shortage of examples when it comes to companies who have, either wholly or in part, changed not only business models but entire markets through their innovation. These companies are, as a result, changing the preconditions for entire sectors, and businesses that fail to keep pace with this change will, sooner or later, see themselves overtaken by the competition. But what is the key to success? In this article, Fredrik Hoem Grelland, Innovation Advisor at the Iver Group, shares his insights and experiences gained by working daily to help businesses generate the preconditions for organisational innovation.
“Innovation, as I see it, is about seizing the opportunities you can see and creating space in your solutions that enables you to continuously seize more opportunities. Innovation work is about creating a culture with a permanent desire for further development and continuous improvement. And if you succeed, what you end up with is an agile and flexible company able to meet every conceivable type of challenge and opportunity successfully,” says Fredrik Hoem Grelland.
Innovation is about seizing the opportunities you can see and creating space in your solutions that enables you to continuously seize more opportunities.
Fredrik believes that the challenge faced by most organisations lies in having the courage to take a critical look at themselves. Because it’s only when you are brave enough to be self-critical that you can create space for new initiatives and for identifying and seizing new opportunities as they arise.
“Every organisation has invisible, established “truths”. “This is how it is,” or “This is how we’ve always done it.” If you want to build an innovative corporate culture, you have to get rid of these “truths” to create space for new thinking.”
Fredrik believes that one of the prerequisites for innovation is the ability to constantly experiment with both new technologies and different solutions. An innovative corporate culture is constantly carrying out experiments – preferably small-scale ones – that can offer insights and lessons which can then be scaled up and dispersed across the organisation. Organisations that want to be more innovative need, quite simply, to improve their ability to take advantage of the insights data has to offer. And to this end, one of the things they need, according to Fredrik, is a new way of looking at data.
“I believe we need to reframe the idea that data is something you work with in data warehouses. Data actually needs to be fed back to the organisation. So whether you’re conducting your development in-house or buying in systems, you need to bear in mind at all times how the insights gained from your data can flow back into the business. You need to be constantly asking questions such as,”How can we use data to achieve new insights and how can we work with this in new ways?”
He continues, “The massive amounts of data companies hold mean there is every opportunity for innovation nowadays. Access to cloud solutions and a modern technology stack is already a fact – the pieces are already in place. The key now is to start working with data in the right way.”
Access to cloud solutions and modern technology is already in place. The key now is to start working with data in the right way.
So how do you create the preconditions for organisational innovation? According to Fredrik, it all starts with your employees. You also often need interplay between what you know about your company and your position and the links that a consultant can help you make outside your area of expertise.
“Let’s say you have one part of an IT department that’s working with a database or data repository that they know really well. Then you bring in new managers who regard the technology and methodologies being used as outdated, and who view these employees as backward-looking, as not being innovative. The problem there is often that these talented people haven’t been given the opportunity for ongoing personal and organisational development, and by the time anyone looks at what they’re doing, far too much time has passed and the technology they’re working with has become outdated. Innovation happens when these people are given the opportunity for continuous personal development and when they’re constantly trying new things – not just when something has gone wrong or when a certain amount of time has passed. Deficient investment in upskilling their talented employees is a common denominator amongst companies that fail on the innovation front.”
He continues, “When push comes to shove, a company is nothing more than a group of people who’ve been brought together to do something together. Successful innovation is about taking care of these people and their skills. People who like change and who are motivated by constantly being able to optimise and improve are what is needed to enable the promotion of innovation within a company. And this type of person gravitates to environments where innovation is happening, where they can develop personally, and be inspired by the people around them. People like this are invaluable in creating a corporate culture that enables innovation, so your goal should be to ensure people like this are happy in your corporate environment. Because without these personality types, you’re not going to innovate successfully – which means you’ll have to rely on contractors you’ve brought in from outside. And innovation based on temporarily employed experts never lasts.”
According to Fredrik, launching so-called “innovation projects” – where you bring in consultants in the expectation that they’ll solve business-critical needs and get rapid results – doesn’t work. Innovation can’t be run as a project.
“Projects are an activity that gets finished, with a defined starting point, budget, and goals. But there’s no end to innovation because it’s about continuous, ongoing change. So an innovation project is doomed to fail before it even starts. Questions like, “When will it be finished?” or “When can it be rolled out?” are irrelevant when it comes to innovation.”
He continues, “Innovation work, done properly, doesn’t produce results immediately. And for many companies without innovation in their DNA, this poses a challenge because it’s hard to justify making investments when you don’t know when you’ll see the effects of your investment. But if you’re going to create a culture in which innovation can happen, you need to start by doing the groundwork, by mapping your talented employees’ skillsets and ensuring that you promote the right people and their work so that they’re on the agenda. Then it’s about creating processes and methodologies that provide space for initiative, for continuous testing, and for experimentation. This is where you can make good use of external consultants – doing the groundwork that creates space for innovation.”