What the most innovative businesses in Australia do that you should too

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Being innovative isn’t a binary proposition – you don’t flick a switch or wake up one day as an innovator. Rather, being an innovative business is a process — a series of steps taken and practices adopted, priming you to recognise pain points and gaps in the market, equipping you to capitalise on the opportunities now recognised.

These are the things that some of Australia’s most innovative businesses do to set themselves up in an age where ideas are king. And as that BRW list shows, it isn’t only newer and smaller companies that can be innovative. Some of Australia’s biggest companies, including the likes of the Commonwealth Bank and Mirvac, are also some of the most innovative. All it takes is the right approach.

Actively identify problems

The first step in being innovative is recognising a problem to be solved or a gap to be filled. The barriers your customers face may not be immediately obvious to someone on your side of the transaction so this can take concerted effort. But there are strategies to unearthing issues in your market.

The first can come through hiring — research shows that diversity is a driver of innovation. People of different genders, backgrounds, skill sets and experience will all view your business differently, and so getting together a diverse team is paramount to becoming innovative.

“All the best ideas have come from our drivers, dispatchers and customer service staff,” says David Berger, co-founder of meal delivery startup Suppertime.

“It’s our job to collect these ideas and turn them into working products.”

The Commonwealth Bank took another approach before launching its Alfred Point Of Sale system. The bank took a deep dive into customer data, finding a big opportunity in alleviating customer frustration at long quotes:

Lost sales research conducted measuring the impact of consumer frustration with lengthy queues found that: 73% have abandoned a retail purchase due to queue lengths, 55% have left a store if their wait time exceeded 5 minutes, and the average size of an abandoned sale is $94, equating to a potential loss of $1.2 billion a year for retailers.

Create the right culture to capitalise

Ivy College, which has consistently been one of the most innovative companies in Australia since launching in 2014, has a culture-centric approach to being innovative. This means adopting a range of ideas to spur employees to take ownership and think differently while encouraging them to recognise and seize opportunities.

Ivy, for example, has an online portal for employees to post, discuss and vote on new ideas and solutions that could help the business. The company is essentially internally crowdsourcing ideas and this achieves a number of goals. It promotes “buy in” to new ideas, validates them among the very group that will be implementing them, and benefits from the experience of the frontline workers.

“You can go and post any idea. We always spruik that there is no stupid idea. And yes we will have a look at every single idea that is posted. We’ll prioritise them, and we’ll try them,” says Ivy’s executive director of operations, Roger Burgess.

Along with the feedback, the online portal has a rewards system, further encouraging participation. It’s all part of a raft of ideas to make employees feel that they “own” their role, that they are important to the business for more than their labour and that they are recognised.

“Everyone feels empowered to thank each other, give recognition. And those badges are aligned with our core behaviours. So we have an innovation badge. It’s all kind of intertwined,” says Burgess.

Tackle an old problem in a new way

A lot of the problems you identify, maybe even most, won’t be groundbreaking. And some of the most innovative solutions to age old problems are simply a spin on a tired solution. Google didn’t invent search or email, it simply did it better. The same with Facebook and social networking, Uber and transport.

This is a sentiment backed up by Dan Nolan, co-founder of Proxima. “To me, innovation is something simple, something like braille or epaulets or travelators, iterative and incremental improvements on existing systems or substantive rethinks of situations that aim to use every tool we have to provide a solution,” he says.

In the end, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants.

Most of everything that surrounds you is a remix or an improvement on something that has come before. The world is a gigantic lab running countless simultaneous experiments. The trick is to open yourself up to it.

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