The two biggest mistakes companies make when trying to innovate

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Innovation has become a buzzword across industries over the last few years as new and agile startups threaten to disrupt big business.

And while many businesses want to be “innovative”, many don’t know where to start, or lack a targeted approach.

Business Insider spoke to Amantha Imber, an innovation psychologist and founder of innovation consultancy Inventium.

Having worked with companies such as Google, Coca-Cola, Disney, LEGO and many others to innovate more successfully, Imber knows about the struggles businesses can face.

At Inventium, Imber helps these companies training staff members to spot opportunities for innovation, help them to think creatively, and even assist them in prototyping ideas to maximise their success rate.

“We do an innovation health check to asses how well is an organisation performing around innovation, what are their strength and where they could improve,” says Imber.

The health checks use a combination of quantitative and qualitative research, which involves a survey component that staff complete, as well as in-depth interviews with senior leaders.

She says the businesses that come to her for advice are “always striving to become better”.

“They never rest on their laurels and they’re always looking to improve.

“The training we do, for example, has all been grounded in what has scientifically been proven to improve an individual’s or a corporation’s approach to innovation.”

Amantha Imber/ Supplied

“One big area we focus on is how to identify customer-driven opportunities for innovation. So, how do we identify what really matters to the customer? For example, what frustrates them most right now and… what we can do to overcome those frustrations?” she explains.

“We also look at creativity and idea generation, looking at how can anyone improve their ability to think more creativity, no matter how creative or uncreative they currently see themselves as being.

“We also focus on experimentation, so how do you test your ideas really quickly and cheaply to increase their chance of success and decrease failure rates.”

She said these pillars apply “across the board” from big business to smaller startups.

The most common mistakes she sees businesses make relates to idea generation and experimentation of ideas.

1. Idea generation

“Two big mistakes I see companies make is.. they think the innovation process starts with having an idea. Very often I see companies holding blue-sky brainstorming workshops, where everyone is encouraged to come up with an idea.

“But the problem with that is it’s not actually grounded in what matters to the customer. The innovation process has to start with looking at the customer as opposed to thinking of ideas. Otherwise you risk the chance of producing ideas that no one wants, or no one cares about.

2. Experimentation

“The second biggest problem that I come across is organisations moving straight from coming up with an idea to implementing that idea with no experimentation phase.

“Sometimes they might do a business case… but business cases are often flawed because no one is involving the customer when writing it. They’re basically untested assumptions. Experimentation is the critical step between coming up the idea and implementing it [because it allows you to test the idea] without investing a lot of money into it.”

Looking forward, Imber identifies technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning as having the most potential for companies to innovate with.

“The impact of artificial intelligence and machine learning will be very strongly felt across the majority of industries over the next five years,” she says.

“If you’re organisation is not thinking about how those technologies are going to impact the way they interact with their customers and the way they add value to their customers lives then they need to get a move on.

“There are some very disruptive technologies coming through that are going to change how a lot of industries and companies are going to be functioning over the next couple of years.”

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