3 strategies to turning your company into an innovative business

Photo: Nigel Treblin/Getty Images.

If you had to write a list of Australia’s top political and business buzzwords right now, sitting near the top of that list would be innovation. Exactly what it means varies, but there is a general view that innovating faster is good for business, good for the economy and good for the country.

At the heart of conversations about innovation are mentions of brands like Airbnb and Uber. That’s great given these relatively new business models and platforms have transformed the way we think about innovation — for example — Uber has disrupted the transport industry yet does not own any cars while Airbnb does not own accommodation locations.

So can more established businesses learn from these large-scale disruptors and innovators?

The recently released National Innovation and Science Agenda from the Australian Government offers businesses – from small to enterprise – incentives to innovate, and that’s a good thing. The more businesses talk innovation, and how they are approaching it, the more they can learn how to adapt and embrace best practice.

The key for businesses is taking learnings from what others are doing and finding ways to implement those learnings fast. Luckily, there are numerous innovative businesses we can draw upon.

Reinvent what you do

Innovation is, in part, about anticipating and delivering solutions for customers’ unmet needs. Amazon has reinvented itself in a variety of ways, from creating the Kindle, to four-hour delivery with customer benefits that are unmatched in e-commerce. Amazon is a great example of a company that took the lead in disrupting itself and the market before the market could disrupt its business. Amazon did this by focusing on what is most important to customers and transforming its offering to deliver these benefits to consumers, better than their rivals. So, just because you’ve started out on one path doesn’t mean you can’t deviate if it makes sense and market conditions evolve.

Successful businesses are agile or quick to respond to change. In fact, the ability to make smart decisions fast can be more important to growth than techniques or business practices that have “always” worked in the past.

Innovate outside the business

According to McKinsey, “successful innovators achieve significant multiples for every dollar invested in innovation by accessing the skills and talents of others. In this way, they speed up innovation and uncover new ways to create value for their customers and ecosystem partners.”

One example of this is Apple and its revolutionary iPod. Almost all the components of the first iPod were developed externally and this enabled Apple to take an idea to market in a very short time frame.

This is also one of the approaches Intuit has taken with its open platform, which allows innovation to come, in part, from outside the company. In the QuickBooks Online example, the number of sources of innovation outside of Intuit is more than 1,500 and growing. Fresh ideas, new solutions, better thinking and value creation all flourish, in both quantity and quality, when innovation sources are multiplied. This is only achieved when you embrace collaboration with the industry to deliver benefits that are customer centric.

Disrupt from within

“We’re disrupting ourselves” is a line from General Motors CEO Mary Barra. Rather than sit back and wait to be disrupted, GM is rising to the huge amount of change in the automotive sector. That includes launching experiments and testing impact. For example, GM has recently announced a partnership with ride-sharing service Lyft, which will see the automotive player invest $500 million to continue Lyft’s growth. It is a great example of tackling innovation head-on in a bid to stay one-step ahead.

Regardless of how you define innovation and how you approach it, at the very heart is customer empathy. That means one of the most important questions to ask is “what do customers want (even if they do not know yet) and how can we meet that need?” It is not an easy question to answer but businesses that crack it could find themselves doing the disruption, rather than being disrupted.

Brad Paterson is the VP and managing director of Intuit Asia-Pacific.

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