The 2014 Innovation Challenge

2014 innovation challengeThe end of the year is upon us and what a year it has been! From glacial ice and snow, a late spring heralded in one of the finest summers in years and as we basked in its warmth, so too did the economy with early faint shoots of recovery growing and taking firm hold across the UK. Now with the OBR predicting growth rates of 2.4% in 2014 the opportunity is there for a strong year ahead; at least for those businesses, which are poised to take advantage.

But what of my own area of expertise; has 2013 been the year in which innovation finally emerged into the mainstream business imperative? The answer to that is both yes and no. Certainly the innovation culture message is spreading. I’ve reported in news pieces and via social media about the way in which the innovation message has gained ground, not just in business but also in governments and national bodies across the world. For example, at the beginning of December I highlighted an article from Malaysia about their “government’s desire and efforts to instil a culture of innovation and creativity at all levels of the public service and the rest of the Malaysian society.”

Personally, I’ve been asked to give keynote speeches, presentations and advise CEOs and senior teams on the way in which innovation can transform outcomes for businesses and for their customers and surveys have shown an increasing awareness amongst CEOs and leaders of the importance of innovation. And yet, amidst all of this growing awareness, there is still a dearth of action by many. The 2012 Accenture survey may have revealed that 93% of companies acknowledged the importance of an innovation culture but another survey this year revealed sixty-six percent don’t have an innovation strategy in place!

The hard truth is that the difference between knowing that something is good for you and acting upon it is past. In the last few years we’ve seen household names fall by the wayside simply because they didn’t innovate and keep up with the market and no matter how strong the recovery is in 2014, more seemingly strong companies will vanish into dust unless they step up to the innovation challenge. In 2014 innovation is not just about thinking up new products or new gimmicks.  Innovation is about changing the culture of the entire organisation. Innovation is about doing things better, doing things differently, transforming working practices and thought processes, providing an exceptional level of customer service and standing out from the crowd.

So my challenge for CEOs and leaders is to take up the innovation challenge in 2014; to step up to the mark and to be a force for change. It’s not easy, nothing worthwhile ever is; but the rewards are there. Equally, instilling a culture of innovation is not rocket science but it does take time; time to develop an innovation strategy, time to lead the way, time to set innovation at the heart of the business and time to develop innovation capability. It may also require an element of parallel running whilst the innovation message diffuses through the organisation and it may require some tough decisions as silos are swept away to be replaced by collaborative working, but realistically what are the alternatives? When every business can access the same technology, when the small organisation can compete on more than equal terms with the monolith; the choice is simply to innovate or be swallowed in the morass of sameness.

Looking back, 2013 has been a time of change, a time to reflect and to learn, a time to prepare for the long march back to growth. By the end of 2014 I predict we’ll start to see the winners and the losers, to celebrate those organisations which prepared and which dared to step up to the innovation challenge. Will you be among them?

Everyone says they want or even need to innovate but few actually do. If you want to be one of the few and you’ve got a question? Ask me… cris@crisbeswick.com

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Cris Beswick is a strategic advisor on innovation and author. He is also the author of The Road to Innovation, and featured on BBC radio and TV. He is also a contributor for The Times, Financial Times, The Independent, CEO Magazine, Director Magazine, HR Magazine and The Sunday Telegraph. @CrisBeswick

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