Organisations are constantly manoeuvring through a cloud of uncertainties and risks. They have to assess whether their business portfolios are flexible and can adapt to disruptive changes. Our columnist points out that this isn’t the only reason organisations should innovate.

Innovation in business is critical for success, and here I share some useful information provided by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 56002:2019 Innovation Management System – Guidance.

This international standard covers eight broad principles: realisation of value; future-focused leaders; strategic direction; culture; exploiting insights; managing uncertainty; adaptability; and systems approach.

Realisation of value
The pursuit of innovation is intended to bring value to the business, and those involved in this process should focus on what impact the innovations will have on interested parties. The value could be either financial or non-financial.

In October 2020, writing in the Harvard Business Review, Professor Sunil Gupta posed an interesting question: “Are you really innovating around your customers’ needs?”

He said that “to come up with truly innovative customer-centric ideas, companies must first understand the problem the customer is trying to solve; secondly, identify and eliminate pain points; and, lastly, look beyond their products.”

Future-focused leaders
Leaders in any organisation should understand that it is not always “business as usual”. They must be ambitious, embrace new ideas and make the most of fresh opportunities.

For example, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) aims to boost economic activities and trade across the continent. The challenge for “future-focused leaders” is to take full advantage of the potential innovation opportunities in the AfCFTA that could benefit their organisations.

Innovation opportunities require leaders to constantly scan the business environment and to have the courage to explore them. As Steve Jobs said: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

Strategic direction
The marketplace can be a ruthless arena. However, it is not all doom and gloom. If we are to focus on the prospects in the AfCFTA and how organisations can thrive, we have to remember that there are also regional economic communities (RECs), such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC). What innovation opportunities exist in these RECs? And are your organisation’s innovation objectives and strategic direction aligned to these? Strategic direction needs a short-term and a long-term approach.

This principle emphasises that “strategic direction is used for prioritising innovation activities, as well as for setting the scope for monitoring and evaluating innovation performance and impact”.

ISO 56000:2020 defines culture as the “shared values, beliefs and behaviours of an organisation”. For innovation to prosper, the culture of the work environment should be supportive. During my corporate career, I recall an onboarding event where the external facilitator asserted that “organisations do not hire you to think like them”. He was challenging our status quo. This left a lasting impact on me!

Peter Drucker wrote: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This is a reminder that, no matter how good your innovation strategy might be, the people implementing it have to be supported or else it is destined to fail. It’s worth bearing in mind: people who overlook the “human factor” in the implementation and maintenance of management systems are courting disaster.

Exploiting insights
Inevitably, many organisations will be compelled to develop and execute digital strategies. Their survival is hanging in the balance, however. The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted many of us to take a huge leap towards exploring new insights.

The exploiting-insights principle reveals that “the development of innovative solutions depends on the identification of stated and unstated needs.”

In order to innovate a new product offering, for example, an entertainment-content provider might tap into the demographics of its viewers. We are already in the era of customer insight management!

Managing uncertainty
There are several benefits for organisations implementing an innovation management system. One of these is the “increased ability to manage uncertainty”. When an organisation develops an innovation management system, it should know how the innovation opportunities might impact its bottom line or the needs of its interested parties.

Although uncertainty is more likely to arise during the initial stages of the innovation initiative, it can still linger throughout the innovation processes.

In the context of innovation, uncertainty management requires a combination of trial and error and lessons learned. This will help the organisation to build momentum and gain traction towards the innovation initiatives. Where there are failures during the innovation process, the lessons learned will enable the organisation to develop “resilience for future innovation”.

This principle affirms that “changes in the context of the organisation are addressed by timely adaptation of structures, processes, competencies and value realisation models to maximise innovation capabilities”.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, South Africa (like so many other countries) imposed various adjusted lockdown levels. You may recall that some fast-food outlets had already adapted to the “click, order and collect” methods. Incidentally, the “collect” option was not always possible – depending on how restrictive lockdown rules were at that time.

When changes in processes happen, an organisation needs to swiftly adapt its systems, innovate and respond to the needs of interested parties.

Systems approach
The innovation performance of a business depends on processes that operate towards a common purpose. Measuring the interaction between elements develops an understanding of their interrelation, and managing these elements as a system improves organisational learning, effectiveness and efficiency.

Take a moment
I am reminded of the words of Heraclitus that “the only constant in life is change”. We should not wait for disruptive risks before we innovate.

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