6 Things Great Innovators Do Differently

Take a look at any successful enterprise and you’ll find innovation at its core. That was just as true a hundred years ago when Henry Ford perfected the assembly line as it is today, when modern day giants like Elon Musk bring cutting edge technology to market. Innovation, as I’ve written before, is how people come up with novel solutions to important problems.

Take a look at any successful enterprise and you’ll find innovation at its core. That was just as true a hundred years ago when Henry Ford perfected the assembly line as it is today when modern day giants like Elon Musk bring cutting edge technology to market. Innovation, as I’ve written before, is how people come up with novel solutions to important problems.

The tricky part is that every organization faces different types of challenges. Some, like Intel, focus on improving old technologies, while others, like MD Anderson Cancer Center, strive to make fundamental new discoveries. There are also those that innovate business models, marketing campaigns and many other things.

That’s why there is no “one true path” to innovation. There are, in fact, as many ways to innovate as there are types of problems to solve. However, in researching my upcoming book, Mapping Innovation, I noticed that there were universal traits across every organization I looked at. From corporate giants to startups to world-class labs, here are the 6 things they had in common.

1. Seek Out Problems

Most people think that innovation starts out with a great idea, but the truth is that it starts with a great problem. Whether it’s Steve Jobs looking for product categories that “suck,” or scientists exploring the fundamental nature of the universe, every innovation starts out as a tough problem that needs to solved.

One thing I noticed about the innovators I researched is that they didn’t just wait for good problems, but they actively went searching for them. Jim Allison, who developed cancer immunotherapy, told me he just liked “figuring things out,” while Charlie Bennett’s interest in finding computation in the natural world helped lead to quantum computing.

I found the same thing when I looked at organizations that are able to innovate consistently. IBM Research has, throughout its history, set up “grand challenges” and searched for unresolved problems in the marketplace. Experian has set up a special unit, called DataLabs, to seek out and solve its customers’ problems. Google’s long-held practice of “20% time” is essentially a human-powered search engine for problems.

So hiring smart people and encouraging creativity are not enough. if you want to make your organization more innovative, the best thing you can do is to think seriously about how you search for problems.

2. Choose Problems That Suit Your Capabilities, Strategy And Culture

After World War II, groups of natives in the South Pacific called cargo cults, built makeshift airstrips complete with antennas protruding out of coconut helmets, improvised headphones and guys waving sticks to signal airplanes in the hopes that valuable cargo would drop from the sky. They had seen soldiers employ similar tactics and were following suit.

Of course, it never worked. Indeed, it seems more than a little bit silly. Simply setting up an airstrip is not what causes cargo planes to fly across the world to a particular location. Anyone who would believe such a thing is missing some very basic principles of how air travel functions. It is patently absurd. Yet modern managers find it completely sensible to try to learn the one thing that can make you innovate like Steve Jobs or the 5 habits that made Elon Musk an innovator. Much like cargo cults, they believe that simply emulating the same tactics will yield the same results, regardless of context. Perhaps not surprisingly, they don’t fare much better than the islanders.

The truth is that your innovation strategies need to suit your capabilities, strategy and culture. Just because something worked for someone else doesn’t mean it will work in your organization. You need to build your own innovation playbook.

3. Identify The Innovation Strategies Most Likely To Solve The Problems You Face

Too often, we treat innovation as a monolith, as if every problem was the same, but that’s clearly not the case. In laboratories and factory floors, universities and coffee shops, or even over a beer after work, people are sussing out better ways to do things. There is no monopoly on creative thought. But that leads us to a problem: How should we go about innovation? Should we hand it over to the guys with white lab coats? An external partner? A specialist in the field? Crowdsource it? What we need is a clear framework for making decisions.

As I wrote in Harvard Business Review, the best way to start is by asking the right questions:
(1) How well is the problem defined? and
(2) How well is the domain defined? Once you’ve asked those framing questions, you can start defining a sensible way to approach the problem using the Innovation Matrix.

Show me any successful innovator and I can show you another that is just as successful and does things very differently. The key to innovating effectively is not the objective merits of any particular strategy, but whether that strategy addresses the problem you are trying to solve.

4. Leverage Platforms To Access Ecosystems Of Talent, Technology and Information

Traditionally, strategy was largely seen as a game of chess in which managers sought to optimize their value chain, maximize bargaining power with buyers and suppliers and minimize threats from new market entrants and substitute goods. Yet today, the nature of power has changed and advantage is not determined by what assets you control, but what you can access. That’s why today, firms must leverage platforms to access ecosystems of talent, technology and information. Even the internal capabilities of the largest corporate giants pale in comparison to those which can be found outside the boundaries of an organization. As Bill Joy, put it, “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.”To understand how this is playing out, consider the case of Microsoft and Linux. Back in 2001, CEO Steve Ballmer saw Linux and other open source technologies as a serious threat to its business and went so far as to call Linux a cancer. Yet today, Microsoft not only actively participates in open source communities, it’s even learned to love Linux. Why the change of heart? It realized, as have many other tech giants, that while it’s difficult to compete with an ecosystem of tens of thousands of developers, you can make a great business by accessing their talents and building on top of their work.

5. Build A Collaborative Culture

Many thought that the digital age would lead to a more solitary existence. With so much you can access through your computer screen, why would you need to go to an office? In fact, just the opposite has happened. While remote work has become a reality, it’s much harder to go it alone than it used to be. In fact, collaboration has become a competitive advantage. To understand why, let’s look at scientists, who probably have the greatest potential to work alone. Yet they are increasingly choosing to work in teams and those teams vastly outperform solo performers. The journal Nature recently noted that the average scientific paper today has four times as many authors as one did in 1950.

Collaboration was also something I repeatedly came across in my research for the book. Not only was the point continually stressed by almost everybody I talked to, I also noticed that in response to my fact checks my sources invariably pushed me to give more credit to others and less to themselves. As MIT’s Sandy Pentland has put it, “We teach people that everything that matters happens between your ears, when in fact it actually happens between people.”

6. Understand That Innovation Is A Messy Business

When we think of innovation, we often conjure up visions of Steve Jobs wowing the crowds at Macworld, but the truth is that innovation is a messy business. Part of the problem is that we mostly see successes, while failures often go unnoticed or are swept under the carpet. We get taken in by myths and gloss over the realities. Consider the case of Alexander Fleming. Many know the story of how he “accidentally” discovered penicillin one day when a mould contaminated a petri dish in his lab. But few realize that his work lay dormant for over a decade until another team of scientists saw its potential and put in the years of work needed to engineer it into a miracle cure. That’s why so few organizations can innovate well.  It is such hard, heartbreaking work. It doesn’t lend itself to shortcuts or “silver bullet” solutions. Truly breakthrough innovations are never a single event, nor are they achieved by one person, or even within a single organization. Rather, they happen when ideas combine to solve important problems.

By Greg Satell

Source https://www.forbes.com/sites/gregsatell/2016/09/16/6-things-every-organization-needs-to-innovate/#c869f5513c05

The Messy and Scary World of Big Data

Big Data is frequently a topic that is overheard and discussed in its most generic terms and subsequently never fully explained. Even within our own articles we have avoided explaining this revolutionary sector of the business intelligence field due to its depth and level of complexity. This article will not give you detailed information about big data but hopefully it will give you an understanding of its nature and get you excited about the implications for businesses. With that being said there are dozens of books out there that delve into exactly what big data is and what its broad implications are. Few people realise that everyday some element of their life has been influenced by big data analytics; the broad impact of this field ranges greatly. Some examples of the influence of big data include: improving sea travel since the 1800’s, preventing flu outbreaks, predicting stock market trends, determining who to insure, finding the cheapest flight periods to preventing exploding manhole covers in New York City. The impact of big data is only increasing as our world is quickly undergoing rapid “datafication”.

If any of the above seems interesting I implore you to check out the book “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think” by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier. This book looks at the morass that is big data and breaks down its nature, implications and challenges through real world cases and simple concepts.

In this article we won’t delve into too much detail but we are going to outline a few of the key concepts of big data and explain to you why the world of big data is a messy and scary place with a level of potential that can only be characterised as revolutionary.

Big data as the name suggests is at its core basically a huge collection of information. Just one of the elements that distinguishes a big data source from a ‘small’ data source is the sheer volume and frequency that data is collected. An example of a big data source from Schonberger and Cukier’s book is when Google launched a project to predict the outbreak of flu within the United States based off fifty million of the most common search queries. Google then applied millions of mathematical models to the data which eventually lead to a list of forty five search terms that could successfully predicted where and when an outbreak of flu would occur to a high degree of reliability. The scary facet of this is not only Google predicting future disease spread from simple searches that might resemble “headache”, “runny nose” or “flu medication” but the fact that this data set is quite small in comparison to those that number in the tens of billions of rows. Where the messy component starts is in what the data actually looks like.

In most business intelligence systems companies are dealing with small, structured data such as point of sales systems or accounting systems. This is data that contains categories/fields such as booking number, item type or id, transaction value, location, date, time etc. Big data in contrast is data that is normally unstructured or commonly less structured for example think about the Google example earlier regarding search queries what does your typical search query look? To think about this lets think about some of the forms a search for flu “headaches” could generate. Not only does the logic that sorts and organises the data have to include the vast range of typos but it also needs to be able to read and categorise complex sentences such as “how to get rid of my cold headache” or any of the other possible variations. Now with that in mind think about the computer processing power and complex set of rules your system needs to have to sort and categorise all that diverse and unorganised data. This complex logic and huge processing power is a major hurdle for big data analytics however the benefits of processing this much data is astounding as it allows for identification of connections and events that wouldn’t normally be possible. Big data allows data analysts to look beyond trends and outputs and look at what is occurring on a macro scale without finding out why it is occurring. If you have enough data that says those cities that search “warm beanies” and “runny nose” end up with a flu outbreak 95% of the time then you don’t need to know why that happens you just need to know that statistically most of the time that is what occurs. This provides companies with clear correlation based actionable intelligence which is exactly what business intelligence and big data is about.

Dozens of companies use the inexact nature of big data to their advantage often finding correlation where no one would have guessed it existed. Amazon might find that people who read “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas” also end up reading “Lord of the Flies”. Alternatively Netflix may find that statistically those individuals who view a drama such as “House of Cards” will also eventually watch the TV shows “Scandal” or “West Wing”. All of these hypothetical examples are basic and simple uses for the correlations that can be pulled from within big data sources. The more data you have the easier it is to draw accurate conclusions as there is less chance of small deviations in the data casing an incorrect assumption.

What this article aimed to achieve was to explain that big data at its core is all about huge quantities of messy, unorganised and complex data. This data is then analysed not to find out ‘why’ something is occurring but to find out ‘what’ is occurring. It is this ‘what’ that provides companies with the actionable intelligence that can be exploited within the marketplace.

If you enjoyed this article please go and check out Schonberger and Cukier’s book as it is a much clearer and informed examination of big data then I could ever hope to manage.

Mass Marketing With A Twist: Data-Driven Electronic Direct Mail (eDM) Campaigns

In the digital age, everyone is bombarded with information in particular email information. With that in mind, it can be difficult for businesses launching email based marketing campaigns to distinguish their campaign from the countless others that are sent to people on a daily basis. How businesses can make their campaigns stand out and increase their business’s sales and profits is by launching a data-driven Electronic Direct Mail (eDM) campaigns.

What is a data-driven eDM Campaign?

An eDM is a campaign that targets a group of prospects or clients and is focused on developing relationships or generating leads for businesses. While this may sound similar to a standard email marketing campaign it is actually much more rigorous. An eDM is not simply about emailing as many prospects as you can and hoping for natural conversions from the sheer number of targets. An eDM campaign is about distributing personalised marketing material to a targeted group of prospects generated from data (point of sale data, purchase histories, demographics, supplier incentive programmes etc..) analysis or a strategic objective and then using the data captured from your emailing to engage the prospects with other marketing tools. Emailing is just the first step in an eDM campaign that looks to turn leads into profit for a business.

How does an eDM Campaign use data?

At the initial and most basic level an eDM campaign will allow businesses to examine the opening habits and click through rates of their prospects from their emailed material.  While this may not seem very useful it can be an exceptionally powerful marketing device when you consider the implications of this information when implementing other lead conversion tools such as direct sales calls, SMS notifications, physical mail outs, traditional advertising and remarketing. To better explain the importance of using data to drive an eDM campaign we will use an example of a travel agency although any business that captures customer information through their point of sales system or transactional data would be a prime candidate.

A simple example of an eDM campaign

For the example let us consider a travel agent that wants to run an eDM campaign that targets past customers who have booked flights and hotels to Europe two years ago (This is called list segmentation, an important step to any marketing). The initial step might  be that the business owner sends out an email campaign showcasing specials, discounts and advertising related specifically to Europe as they know these individuals have an interest in the region. After the emails are sent business owner “Sarah” notices that of all the links within her email a high percentage of individuals click through to her website or the campaign page about “European Bus Tours” and the same users also click through on the 2016 European flight specials. This tells Sarah two things, firstly there is an interest by customers in bus tours in Europe and also a potential opportunity to package flights plus bus tours.

Sarah upon analysing this data decides to then takes initiate a two-pronged direct calling and mail out campaign targeting those two products(Europe flights and bus tours) for just those individuals who clicked through on the links. At this moment the campaign is highly segmented, personalised, targeted and driven by genuine interest in a product, all signs are good for a decent conversion rate. Sarah keeps her sales team busy and probably sees a fairly decent return on investment.

You might be thinking well that all sounds great but it sounds a little difficult to do what with organising mailing platforms, graphics, list generation etc.. or it doesn’t seem like there is much data analysis actually going on…Well, that’s because this brief scenario is only the very tip of the data analysis possible with eDM campaigns. A business intelligence company such as Resurg could in fact further enrich the campaign by providing an even higher level of data analysis. For example with enough expertise in data analysis, it is possible for even more highly segmented lists to be generated based on a business’s point of sales data and it may also be possible to use some predictive analytics to qualify prospects.

As mentioned previously where the true value of using data specialists unfolds is in when complex analysis occurs across your segmented list to provide predictive scores for each targeted customer. What this would look like is that instead of having a list of 100 hundred prospects who all clicked on your email links and are segmented to match your campaign, you would have a list of 100 prospects all ranked against each other based on captured and available data to predict which prospects would be the most likely to participate in your campaign and or those that would possibly provide the largest yield for your business.

This article has been to provide a brief look at the potential eDM campaigns have for shaping and changing the way your business conducts its marketing. It doesn’t matter whether you are a travel agent, retailer or specialist vendor; anyone that captures customer data can reap the financial benefits of data-driven Electronic Direct Mail campaigns. Don’t settle for long standing, less effective marketing methods to grow and develop your business, engage with the revolution that is data-based marketing.

Thanks for reading,
Resurg

Daring To Dash…Business Intelligence Dashboards

This article will discuss what a business intelligence dashboard is, some of its benefits for small business owners and some of the difficulties dashboards face for large scale adoption among small to medium enterprises.

What is a business intelligence dashboard?

A business intelligence dashboard at its most basic is a piece of software that displays important information about your business in real time. A dashboard system automatically processes data from your business’s major systems (e.g. point of sales systems, customer relationship management software, accounting software, staff rostering software etc) and presents that data securely to you in a visual format in real time.

On business intelligence dashboards the metrics that may be displayed can vary greatly from business to business as it depends on the owners/managements needs and the available outputs from their internal systems (Where the dashboard gets all its data from). Some metrics that may be displayed might be sales (daily/weekly/monthly comparisons), number of sales (by department or store and or comparisons), revenue, net profit, gross profit, costs, transactions per staff or countless others.

Below you can find a generic example of what a business intelligence dashboard may look:

Demo Dashboard

 

What are the benefits of having a business intelligence dashboard?

A professionally constructed and implemented dashboard can be a very powerful tool for owners and management to monitor and improve their businesses. Just three of the major benefits of operating a business intelligence dashboard are:

1) Information Accessibility: A dashboard consolidates a large proportion of meaningful data that businesses produce. A dashboard makes the collection and aggregation of the data easy often displaying multiple systems worth of data in one to two pages using graphs and tables. The process of analysing data which may have taken days or weeks to gather and analyse before can be done in real time, as often as business operators would like from either their computer or mobile devices via the internet.

2) Business Improvement: A dashboard makes business improvement and strategic planning easy as it places all the information managers need right on their computer monitor or mobile phone. A dashboard provides all the analytic and comparative data needed to improve and review business practices. Without data a business can’t improve itself, a dashboard supplies the data needed in an easily accessed and reviewed manner.

3) Reduced Administration Time: A dashboard reduces the need for staff or managers to store, aggregate and analyse data that the business generates. Gone are the days of generating countless reports or creating complicated Excel analysis matrixes. The dashboard automatically processes the data directly from business systems and presents it in a ready to use format.

These are only some of the many benefits of a sophisticated business intelligence dashboard; other tangible benefits may include: Modernisation of record keeping systems, employee performance improvement, visual goal tracking, comparative analysis, data that is mentally easier to process.

What are some difficulties with implementing a dashboard?

There are always difficulties when implementing a new technology into a business, the two major difficulties for business intelligence dashboards are the selection of the dashboard’s metrics and of course the construction of the dashboard.

1) Metrics Selection: A dashboard being an informational tool is only as effective as the information it is told to display. What this means is that business owners and developers have to be thoughtful and informed about what are the “key” business metrics for your business and also what are the underlying metrics for those key data sets. For example, if a key metric for your travel agency is sales then important underlying metrics that might need to be displayed could be number of leads produced/used, quotes/invoices sent, uptake rate of quotes, sale closure rate and or average transaction value. What data your dashboard displays will vary greatly depending on your business industry and needs so it is something that should be thought about in detail prior to contracting a developer.

2) Dashboard Design: Building a dashboard is a sophisticated and detailed process which requires expert knowledge and superb technical skills. This is because a dashboard needs to not only gather all your important information automatically but also analyse and display it in real time. Luckily for business owners and managers there are some very capable business intelligence companies out there such as Resurg which can cater for their dashboard needs. If you are interested in possibly discussing or implementing a dashboard for your business check out our dashboard page and give us a call or email us.

Predicted Business Trends and Practices For 2016

This article will focus upon listing some of the business trends and practices predicted for 2016 by various media and business groups.

1) Same Day Delivery and On-Demand logistics companies will continue to grow as larger companies (Uber, Amazon, Woolworths) test their capabilities in this growing industry.

2) There will be a large increase in the number of businesses up for sale due to Baby Boomer’s reaching retirement age.

3) Customers will wield even more power over businesses through social media technologies that are focused on product/business reviews.

4) Customer relationships developed through personal relationships and human connections will continue to play a vital part in repeat and return business despite the growth of technology that limits this factor.

5) Businesses will be looking to increase both their cyber security and their data security capabilities.

6) There will be continued large-scale adoption of cloud computing for large and small businesses alike.

7) There will be an increase in the number of businesses that use mobile ‘beacon’ marketing or mobile location-based marketing.

8) Businesses will have more reasons to develop their mobile marketing and websites as search engines weigh mobile friendly sites much more heavily in their ranking algorithms.

9) Businesses will utilise applications that are mobile friendly and cloud based to help them run their front, mid and back office. The ability to work from your mobile will be a growing trend within 2016.

10) Data analytics will be the focus for small businesses in 2016, while emotional and predictive analytics gains ground within the business world.

11) The costs of cloud computing will continue to fall but the cost of cloud management and analytics will remain steady as demand grows.

12) There will be an increase in top-level domain names in 2016, such as those that are delineated by location “.syd” or by profession/field “.lawyer” or “.it”.

13) Businesses will need to update their payment systems to utilise the many online and alternative payment methods (Square, Bitcoin, Apple/Google Wallets, NFC Technology, mobile payments and EMV chips etc).

14) The small and medium business world will see a huge increase in the “software as a service” market. Applications such as Office 365, Google Apps or Okta will see a significant amount of growth within the SME marketplace.

15) Technological accessibility (huge supply and low costs) in the realms of PoS Systems, CRM Software and Marketing Platforms will help support the continued growth of start-ups and small businesses.

16) Adapt or Die will be a trend that gains more traction within 2016 as businesses that do not familiarise themselves with new technologies and growth areas such as cloud computing, data analytics and ‘software as a service’ will suffer the consequences.

17) Increasing employees social engagement within businesses through social programs and charity programs will be increasingly popular to building healthy work cultures during 2016.

18) There will be a resurgence of the traditional marketing fields of relationship building and word of mouth marketing as the market becomes further saturated with social media marketing.

19) There will be a huge increase in the amount of targeted marketing carried out by businesses in all industries to combat the mass generic marketing that is the stable of the digital age.

20) Small businesses will utilise modern tools such as Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Smallknot, Rockethub or Youtube to build hype and access funding for development directly from customers. They will also use these platforms to offer genuine and mutually beneficial communication.

21) Video marketing and real-time customer feedback will be a huge growth area through platforms such as Periscope, Meerkat and Twitch among others.

22) There will be continued growth of “Re-Marketing” within the advertising world and small businesses may come to rely on pay per click advertising schemes.

Aim For The Clouds: Cloud Computing In Small-Medium Enterprises

This month the innovation article will be focusing on Cloud Computing. We will be talking about what it is, how it works, a major misconception about cloud computing to do with security and why it is important to small-medium businesses.

What is ‘the cloud’?  How does it work?

To put it simply the cloud is a term used in technology to define any service or storage system that is accessed through a network (Internet) from a different location. Unlike the name implies the cloud doesn’t just float around on the internet; the data or services are stored on immensely powerful servers within large, ultra secure data centres (Picture a warehouse full of servers). The types of cloud based services can range from simple storage services such as Google Drive/Dropbox to more sophisticate client record management systems such as Salesforce or even companies that offer complete ‘virtualisation’ which basically means all your software is run from their centre and streamed to your office systems. Those are just a small amount of the potential uses for cloud computing; their potential as a means for innovation and change is outstanding. To further explain how these types of systems work it is helpful to use the example of a cloud computing service we are all familiar with such as the internet banking website/app almost all banks offer their clients.

Example: The process of starting your internet banking app/website while being connected to the internet is the beginning of your cloud interaction. By entering your identification ID and pin you identify who you are to the data centre’s servers so they can do the hard work of retrieving the correct information for you. Any changes or actions you undertake to your account is conveyed to the servers where the changes are made and saved. The cloud nature of this interaction is that you can access your account from anywhere on any compatible device as long as you have a stable network connection (internet) and your required identification or passwords.

Put another way, utilising a cloud storage service or a cloud computing solution is like having access to a safe deposit box that is not only accessible anytime and anywhere but also like having an army of workers available to you to undertake complicated tasks related to the contents of that deposit box. The cloud is about more than just storage it is about utilising the processing power of these data centres to allow small, medium and large companies to undertake colossal tasks, easier and more affordably.

Misconception About Cloud Computing Security 

Within business particularly the small-medium enterprise market there remains some hesitance regarding cloud based services. The major cause for the hesitance for adopting cloud based solutions is fear. Companies fear that there are security issues by having information stored offsite and accessible over the internet. There are some obvious misconceptions fuelling these fears and a lack of understanding about the power, significance and potential of adopting a cloud based approach for your technology needs.

To dissolve this fear about security we have to consider the simple fact that the data centres used for major cloud computing operations are the banks of the digital age. Major data centres (Such as Equinox in Sydney and others) contain huge amounts of sensitive data from the private sector (banks, lawyers, financial services) and even government data. These data centres are almost always highly secure digitally and physically. A simple Google search investigating the security of these centres will show that most have 24/7 security guards, CCTV, gates, fences, pass cards, pin codes or even biometric scanning systems. On top of this all data centres always have disaster plans in place, whereby they are able to still operate or transfer your data to another centre in the event of emergencies. That is just the usual physical security features, almost all data centres also have full time staff who maintain the condition of the servers and also deal with any cyber security threats. In fact the hardware in the centres themselves is often specifically designed to be very difficult to hack into, certainly much harder than hacking into an office network or computer.

At this point after discussing what cloud computing services are, how they work and the major barrier to their adoption you might be asking yourself why is cloud computing important to small-medium enterprises? The answer is not simple in that because of their versatility and potential they can fulfil a number of roles for small to medium sized companies. That being said in a study conducted by MYOB, Australia’s most prevalent business management software provider over 1,000 organisations identified their reasons for utilising cloud based systems, which were:

– The ability to work on our data whenever and wherever we want (42%)

– Allows for one or more team members to work remotely when needed while maintaining work continuity (28%)

– Allows the company to reduce the number of IT issues they have to fix (26%)

– Their data was more protected within a cloud based system than on their own servers (23%)

– Reduced their IT software and support costs (18%)

– Allows real time connectivity to other sources of data accessible over network (e.g. banking details loaded into the cloud) (16%)

– Provides faster networking and processing than previous system (15%)

– Reduced cost and increased flexibility with IT software and services (15%)

– Removes the need to maintain and install software on office systems (15%)

* Information adapted and used from the MYOB Industry Research paper titled Australia SMEs & Cloud Computing

 

Upon reviewing these reasons given by leading SMEs who utilise cloud based services it can easily be seen how and why they can be so important to companies that want to grow and innovate their business.

Innovation In The SME Environment: Success As A Workplace Culture And Hurdles To Innovation

Rather than being ‘nice to have’, innovation should be a vital element in the way SMEs conduct business, collaborate and deliver to their customers.”
Joined-Up Innovation: Culturing Success, p. 3; Pip Marlow (Managing Director – Microsoft Australia).

Part 1 – Barriers To Innovation For Laggard and Cruiser Companies
Just as Pip Marlow stated in the research paper preamble we at Resurg firmly believe that innovation should be at the heart of business practice. This is part of the reason that we strive to offer our clients services that will innovate their business practices and provide tangible results. We do this by offering our business coaching and work groups services that offer business owners opportunities to discuss and implement best practice and innovation with the help of experts and their peers. On top of this we also aim to arm business owners with the data and information they need to drive change and improvement in their business through our benchmarking and dash boarding services. That being said enough about us; lets talk about how workplace culture and purposeful strategic decisions can encourage and discourage innovation and growth.

In the Joined-Up Innovation: Culturing Success research paper Microsoft surveyed and interviewed over 500 SMEs and their employees. This research made them categorise 33% percent of the sample as Leaders in innovation, 43% percent as Cruisers and 24% as Laggards. These numbers while just a small sample of the Australian SME environment highlight a surprising fact, innovation is actively pursued in 76% of companies interviewed. What this means is that just wanting to innovate and having an idea or two isn’t setting you above the curve, in fact it makes companies just average. So if that is the case let’s talk about the differences between Leaders, Cruisers and Laggards as Microsoft characterises them and how they can transition between those categories.

The Laggards
Microsoft characterised a Laggard as any company that had little to no desire for innovation. These companies may be profitable and they may even have a modicum of success which gives them little perceived incentive for innovating. That being said three common factors holding the laggards back were:

  • A lack of trust between employees and leadership,
  • Business structures that are linear and traditional
  • A sense of apathy.

To begin with let’s talk about the Laggard’s lack of trust. This element is primarily to do with organisations not trusting their employees expertise and as a result not allowing them to think creatively and critically to find new solutions for fear of failure or detrimental impact. Not allowing employees time or resources to explore ‘out of the box’ solutions diminishes their self perceived value in the workplace and makes the culture of the organisation potentially one of blame sharing. What this means is that when something goes wrong (And they will when innovating!) people produce excuses out of fear rather than taking ownership and creating solutions. This lack of trust can only truly be combated by fostering an open and communicative workplace where experimentation is encouraged and where all ideas are considered and valued. A method to encourage this failure free and open environment could range from providing an employee ‘suggestion box’ to holding team or company meetings where problems and goals are discussed.

The second issue regarding linear and traditional business structures is really about companies failing to allocate resources for innovation.  What this usually looks like in companies is that budgetary funds and personnel are often given to those individuals or departments that are purely assessed on KPIs. Often these business structures will have a very top down organisation where upper management dictates methods and means for staff to fulfil their jobs, diminishing their expertise. It is often the case that these traditional structures mean that money and resources are often dedicated to purely short term benefits (current deliverables) and not to providing or improving long term benefits (future deliverables). This cultural and structural issue links directly into the last barrier to innovation within Laggard organisations which is a deep residing sense of apathy. Two methods of fighting this particular barrier is to experiment with flat and more transparent management structures, where there are high levels of communication between leadership and staff. The second method that might work is simply creating a metric or policy where small amounts of time are dedicated to innovation or self reflective job journaling. Many large and highly successful multinationals especially within the technology sector now provide employees with up to or more than an hour a day of time to work on personal projects they think might benefit the long term goals of the company. One such company that employs this non traditional business structure is Google, a company that does not suffer from apathy for innovation, that is for certain.

It is the apathy for innovation which can be most difficult to remove from a Laggard company. This is for the simple fact that it requires not only changing employee’s mindset in regards to their roles but also changing the psychology of the leaders of the company. The apathy is created when the leadership of the company and its staff see no reasonable incentive to innovate (profit or reward) and they only perceive potential negatives at attempting to innovate (fear of failure and loss of resources). This barrier would be most aptly described as the “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” barrier. Companies that operate with ‘relative’ success or profitability, control a niche market or demographic or are simply small will often suffer from this mindset. In fact it was found in regards to company size that from the paper only 35% of businesses with up to four staff conducted innovative activities in comparison to 63% of companies with 20-199 employees. These relatively successful, niche and smaller companies are missing out on potential revenue by not looking to grow and improve their services. While apathy is difficult to cure especially if the ambition isn’t there it can be diminished by simple things such as incentive programs to reward innovation.

The above summarises the major barriers to innovation for companies that have little to no interest in innovation based off Microsoft’s research, which was a minority. The largest group in the study the Cruisers face interesting challenges in their own right.

The Cruisers
While the issues of the Laggards may seem difficult even ‘successful’ innovators are faced with issues, in particular the issue of delivery.  The Cruiser companies were characterised as having significant interest in innovative practices and may even have significant plans or ideas for the business underway but struggle to execute those plans (For the phases of development for working on an innovation project read this article). The reasons that the Cruiser’s innovation and changes often fell apart were broken down into three specific issues, which were:

  • Issues with the delivery pipeline
  • A frightened workplace culture
  • A lack of transparency and stability for employees

The first barrier regarding issues with the innovation delivery pipeline was characterised as often being due to the lack of resources and commitment. To use an old adage, the Cruisers very rarely gave it “110%”. Companies that were branded as Cruiser’s often showed an unwillingness to divert resources and expertise from regular workloads and projects. They did this often because they saw only the maintaining and growing of their traditional incomes as the priority for their business models. Inextricably tied to this particular issue is the second issue regarding a frightened workplace culture. This is twofold in that it pertains not only to employees being afraid of making mistakes on potentially costly innovative undertakings but it also relates to leadership being afraid to potentially sacrifice staff and income for “potential” long term gains from ‘risky’ innovative activities.  Companies that do not surmount this one-two punch of unwillingness to commit and being afraid of failing are often eventually relegated to being Laggards, as each successive failure or budgetary blowout for a new project is seen as evidence for the failure of innovation rather than a price of being cutting edge. This then slowly but surely entrenches the “let’s stick with what we know” mentality which eventually coalesces into a deep abiding sense of apathy.

At the end of the day an unwillingness to commit and a fear of failure on a companywide level can only be combated by two things; courage and planning. Any successful innovation project will only occur if it is planned, evaluated and implemented at a high level in a holistic and macro level. As to the courage part of the solution the answer is both simple and terrifying, as Winston Churchill the famous British politician said “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is courage to continue that counts”.

The final barrier to innovation within Cruiser organisations from the research report is both a structural issue and a cultural issue. Employees who lack an understanding of how their roles fit into the overall strategic mission of the company or project will not feel a sense of purpose or assurance of job security. By communicating to staff the objective of any innovative undertaking and creating a clear picture for staff that they are vital in that undertaking companies are opening up a number of positive opportunities. Firstly they are confirming for staff that they are necessary and valued team members whose work has greater meaning to the company other than immediate deliverables. Secondly they are providing employees with the ability to not just look at their tasks in a micro and isolated manner, they are allowing them to look at the whole problem and potentially use their prior knowledge and expertise to solve the much larger problem or objective. Indeed some of the greatest innovations can come from employees being given greater understanding of a company’s strategic plan and allowing them the job security to explore solutions to problems without the threat of being fired or reprimanded for it. One example of this in the business world would be Google’s recent development of an interface that allows users to determine if their house is a good candidate for solar panels. This was a side project by a engineer who saw that Google wanted to expand their environmental engineering contributions and used his knowledge of their mapping technology to make this possible.

So now that you know what the Laggards and Cruisers within the domain of innovation look like, let’s have a look at the Leaders. In the next part of the article we will be briefly outlining some of the strategies used by those who Microsoft characterised as Leader’s of innovation.

Part 2 – The Leader’s of Innovation

So far we have talked about two of the major categorising groups presented in Microsoft’s research into innovation; these were the Cruisers and the Laggards. From now on the article will be focusing upon talking about what makes the business practices and workplace culture of the top innovators (Leaders) so successful. The Leader’s in the research paper were characterised as being companies who are actively innovating within “dynamic and open workplace cultures” (p. 7). The paper further characterises Leaders as those who have an awareness of the need to innovate, a drive to innovate for the betterment of their customer outcomes not just their profits and those who have the internal structures and resources to effectively collect and deliver on ideas from staff and customers. With that brief explanation out of the way bear with us as we explore the often nebulous and tricky world of navigating and managing and implementing workplace culture and strategies to foster success and innovation.

Whenever any business writer or consultant is looking to talk about workplace culture there are always a number of reactions these range from boredom to confusion or frustration. All of these myriad of reactions are due to the fact that workplace culture is one of the most integral factors to a business’s success and it is also one of the hardest to manage and change. Now rather than begin with a rather wordy and over complicated explanation of what an innovative workplace culture should look like, I’m just going to present some deceptively simple dot points and then discuss them. So without further ado here are just seven of the most vital elements to a workplace culture as displayed and reported by Leader’s within the SME environment in regards to encouraging success and innovation:

A SME that is characterised as a Leader of innovation will possess a culture that is/has:
1) Non traditional leadership and communication hierarchies

2) Open communication pathways

3) No fear of failure

4) Flexible work agreements and conditions

5) A business vision that is clear to employees

6) A clear innovation project planning pipeline from start to delivery

7) Employing creative and team friendly staff

All of these elements are integral to fostering a work culture which will maximise a company’s ability to safely and successfully innovate their business practices and as a result improve outcomes for themselves and customers. With that being said some of those strategies are exceptionally broad and business owners may find it confronting when planning how to enact those changes in their businesses. With that in mind the next section will now be seven dot points which will provide one suggestion for fostering that change in your business. Some of them may seem simple or even familiar  as they may have already been discussed earlier in the article or in previous articles here.

1) Flat management structures or micro structures where the staff roundtable ideas and planning with leadership. This is an innovative structure popular with smaller companies as it reduces middle management and facilitates more efficient and healthier communication with staff to those that dictate company strategy.

2) Daily or weekly micro meetings discussing objectives, goals and problems; these meetings should be upon supporting collaborative problem solving. These meetings should also be held relatively informally to foster a safe and relaxed environment to brainstorm and problem solve within. Lastly and most importantly staff should feel free to express ideas as there is no such thing as a bad idea as one of my old university lecturers was fond of saying.

3) Always start any brainstorm or problem solving meeting yourself with an idea or a question for the other members. This will engage them and show yourself as an active participant rather than a judge. It is also important to use the time tested positive-negative-positive system when providing feedback for ideas. This method will diminish the self esteem hit staff will take if an idea is off target or disruptive. It is also important to not shut down that member if possible but offer them a means to save face by posing your improved suggestion or redirect as a question that is seeking their opinion.

E.g. “Your idea for improving sales speed is great because it….But it doesn’t really take into account “X”…That being said perhaps we could move from that and look into “Y” to improve the process?,  What do you think?”

While this may seem like a lot of work the value of having staff who aren’t afraid to share their ideas cannot be underestimated.

4) Allow staff to telecommute or work at flexible hours if appropriate. For example letting employees telecommute or allowing early leave on some days for appropriate reasons can be an easy way to foster positive relationships and to motivate employees to work at optimal levels, just make sure you monitor their performance as normal.

5) Include staff of all levels in your broad strategic planning and objectives outlining, obviously they don’t need to know everything but breaking down what’s pertinent for your staff will help them identify their wider role in the company and potentially boost productivity by granting clear meaning to their work.

6) See this article

7) Aim to have a diverse workforce. Injecting some young staff fresh from high school or university while initially presents a training cost due to their inexperience it can lead to real gains from their technological knowhow and fresh perspective.

To read the original Microsoft Joined-Up Innovation: Culturing Success report go to: https://www.microsoft.com/enterprise/en-au/business-leaders/joined-up-innovation/articles/read-the-report.aspx#fbid=4OWOw9AnO-q

Business Trends of 2015

In 2015 there have been a significant number of new and revisited trends within the business world. These trends are particularly focused around how businesses are structured, how employees approach employment and the business environment. Here is a list and brief outline of nine prominent trends that have seen growth this year:

Freelancing

1) There has been a larger number of Australian’s participating in some form of freelance work than ever before. This work may be on top of their normal nine to five or it may be making the shift to contracting or business ownership. This trend is not only occurring in the younger generation of workers (Gen Y) but also among the Baby Boomers. The Gen Y workers are not finding fulfilling employment opportunities or stable contracts so they undertake freelance employment as a means to improve their work situation. The Baby Boomers on the other hand are tending to freelance for flexibility, to reduce stress and to offer them more control over their lifestyle.

Self Directed Professional Development

2) The issue of skills shortage and a lack of employee training opportunities has been around for a long time however lately  more employees are being forced to look for development opportunities themselves. Professional development should be a priority for both individual employees and across the whole company. The ideal workplace would have staff looking to further develop their skills who would be supported by their employers to achieve those development goals.

Dynamic Working Environments

3) The modern business is no longer based in the nine-five, office environment mentality. With the advent of budget national airway carriers and the technological advances in communication (Skype, whatsapp, cloud based programs) the modern office is one that is constantly moving. Employees are now flying in and out of offices, Skyping into work, working remotely from home, working while on the road or while visiting clients due to the connectivity and mobility available to them. This has made the workplace a dynamic and fluid environment that isn’t constrained to one location or a certain time. Flexibility is the buzz word of most modern work environments.

 The Young Upstarts (Youth Management)

4) Young people are more often feeling driven to enter into management roles earlier in their careers. Long gone are the days where employees would wait for an opportunity later in their career. Twenty something’s and those in their early thirties with the increasing costs of living and competitive working environment are looking to take on more responsibility faster. This drive to be a “boss” is a contributing factor to the large increase in freelancing in particular from younger employees.

 Internships

5) The business world has pivoted even more so towards internships in recent years. More and more businesses are offering positions to fresh graduates or currently studying individuals either paid or unpaid. This trend has occurred due to a convergence of factors such as; the approaching retirement of the baby boomer generation, the need for more technically adept employees and the financial benefits interns can provide for a business. Internships will continue to grow in the year and years to come, particularly within the technology, financial and consulting services (though they have been a staple of those industries already for years).

Hiring: Social Media As A Tool

6)More people are beginning to realise that using social media to research both potential employees and employers is a must. Countless individuals and companies don’t realise how much of their personal life, personality and nature is available online to anyone. While social media searches can help employers narrow their hiring candidates it can also help job hunters see what they are getting into. With that in mind more and more companies are developing specific strategies and procedures for their social media for both the company and employees. Look for more directed and targeted policies that look to attract potential employees in the coming months and years.

The Open, Bright And Collegiate Workplace

7) The dominance of the traditional office environment is almost certainly coming to an end. More and more prospective employees are looking for businesses to work for that offer comfortable, modern and collaborative working environments. Companies such as Google, Acuity, Lego, Fujitsu, Facebook and others are leading the way with working environments that are designed to embrace modernity and foster collaborative working relationships. The days of the cubicle or shut in office are almost gone, say hello to the colourful, engaging open plan or pod styled offices of tomorrow.

 Volunteering

8) In today’s business environment people sacrificing their already limited free time seems to be unlikely however recent trends are actually proving this to be false. Employees are becoming more and more involved and excited by opportunities to volunteer their skills or time to charitable works and programs. Offering these opportunities to employees has a two fold impact, firstly it provides your employees with a way to feel good about their work by having a positive and selfless impact and secondly it gives the company greater exposure in the wider community. Businesses can undertake volunteering or charity programs through pro bono work, donations or through participation in events for charity such as completing Walk For Life, Seven Bridges Walk or even the more challenging Tough Mudder.

 Not So Fancy

9) The idea of casual Fridays has been around for a long time but today, it’s not so much casual Friday that is becoming more prevalent but more like casual Monday – Friday. Businesses are finding that employees who are more comfortable at work produce better results. For smaller businesses allowing your employees more comfort in the workplace while maintaining a professionalism that suits your industry is a balance you must try on. It isn’t just technology companies that are moving towards the casual wear offices and workplaces, get on board before your ties, tie your hands and you are forced to change!