Written by Debarshi Chaudury, the CEO and Founder of Quantilus Innovation Inc., as part of the Forbes Technology Council. Click here to see the original post.
Innovation is a term intertwined with a business’s ability to move forward, grow and adapt. However, while every company can acknowledge the need for innovation, actually defining and implementing an innovative method that can benefit your organization is a difficult and sometimes costly process.
Innovation does not require an overhaul of technology or infrastructure. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the surfeit of software tools and automation options in the market — and all the buzzwords that are the flavor of the month. But, in fact, the most effective forms of innovation are incremental process and system changes driven by the people who live and work through it. Innovation in 2021 doesn’t have to be one-dimensional and technology-centric — from slightly adjusting organizational structures to reordering lines of communication, there are many ways to become innovative even while taking “smaller steps” forward.
The Covid-19 pandemic inadvertently turbocharged innovation in many industries and companies. Reality followed the old cliché, and invention (innovation) was born out of necessity. This trend will continue through 2021 as businesses adjust to the “new normal.”
Broadly, this innovation can be classified into two distinct areas. On one hand, we have innovation through new technology. For example, we’ve seen a big push toward the adoption of tools and technologies that promote efficiency like automation tools, software as a service (SaaS) and cybersecurity. These are all enabled by the advances in emerging technologies like machine learning and natural language processing.
On the other hand, we have innovation through the application and adjustment of new processes and methods. Anything from corporate culture changes or adjustments in internal processes can potentially promote efficiency. The adoption of these process changes is often smoothed by the application of technology, but it is important to note that technology is not the central change in these cases — it is merely an enabler.
One of the more innovative changes that we have encountered over the last year is companies improving communication channels within different business units to facilitate the sharing of ideas and collaboration between people who work on similar or related tasks. The long-term goal of these efforts is to change the corporate culture and shift toward a mindset primed for innovation.
The trade show industry was completely shut down because of the pandemic, which left organizers scrambling for options. This resulted in a massive spurt of innovation in the space — from building new platforms for online trade shows to revamping existing platforms to reusing applications that were never actually intended for trade shows in the first place.
Before Zoom fatigue became a thing, companies and educational institutions had to innovate in order to continue providing training services to their employees and students. This was not just a matter of running the sessions online but also of digitizing content, making it available in bite-sized forms and creating online communities of learners who could learn collaboratively.
As businesses and meetings moved online, the paradigm for speakers and presenters changed as well. Making yourself stand out in an online presentation requires a different set of skills and attitudes. This led to an increase in services and apps to help people prepare themselves for presentations and public speaking in small, medium and large scale meetings.
Mental health is one of the major casualties of the pandemic, and institutions have had to get creative (and innovative) to alleviate this. An increased emphasis on events, sharing and support meetings is a direct result of people accepting the issues caused by elevated stress levels. Technology, in this case, has helped, but the core innovation here is people figuring out better ways of supporting other people.
An unfortunate reality is that implementing change gets harder the larger a company gets. Innovation isn’t just a turnkey project, but it’s also about changing the mindset of all stakeholders. This change can be intimidating, and people need to accept the possibility that their ideas may fail or not be perfect at first. But fostering collaboration that can spark innovation will also help create an environment that removes any reluctance or feelings of intimidation.
Another hurdle with changing the mindset to an innovative mindset is getting employees to understand that their job isn’t at risk if they do come up with a way of making their job more efficient. For example, employees often feel threatened by technology-based innovation such as automation. While employees might believe automation would help with their day-to-day, there’s still a hesitation caused by the fear of replacement.
What companies need to do to break this train of thought is to encourage centralization. Going back to the automation example, a project by an innovation team isn’t solely about automating tasks but also centralizing a company’s process to complete a common task. The other key aspect is to retrain and reward the employees driving this innovation. There needs to be an understanding that change can be for the better and not for the worse.
Innovation is a companywide project and an opportunity for all employees to have a voice in identifying ways to improve a business all around. But the potential of setting up your company with an endless, collaborative resource of ideation that involves the promotion of company culture is a payoff that I think most companies must drive as we move into uncharted territory.