Creating an innovative business environment means opening your company up for some disruptive changes – in a great way – but none the easier.

Creating an innovative culture is cornerstone to success! In today’s new normal business environment, customers expect “stand above the crowd” service with high-value products and services as the norm. The only way to achieve these lofty expectations without breaking the bank is to create a culture of innovation.

Focus on how to create and leverage innovation to not only improve your profitability but also to leapfrog your competition. You must change the playing field – and therefore the rules of the game – and throw out your old business models and practices. Instead, you need to think and practice innovation.

Anyone can be innovative. It doesn’t require a background in R&D or fancy degrees. According to “Inside Steve’s Brain” by Leander Kahney, about the late Steve Jobs and creative innovation, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” 

Thus, innovation is not some complex, non-understandable phenomenon. In addition to pure creativity, it’s about re-packaging – literally and figuratively – by connecting the dots in a new way and seeing trends and hidden profit opportunities. The great news is that you can learn innovative techniques, and the most important element is to provide a culture of innovation that supports employee’s trials and errors.

So, how do you go about creating a culture of innovation? Learn more and register for our upcoming APICS-IE executive panel and executive symposium on the theme of innovation to learn more. We have several world-renowned experts on innovation. Learn tips and strategies from the best!

In the interim, here are a few keys I’ve found to successfully creating an innovative culture: 1) Focus on the customer. 2) It’s all about the people. 3) Flexibility.

1. Focus on the customer. Everyone says they focus on the customer’s needs, but do they? Are they doing what they think the customer wants or are they truly finding out what the customer values? It is easy to go down the road of features and benefits without understanding your customers’ priorities.

So, how do you find out? Talk with customers. Ask for the laundry list of requests but do not stop there. Ask questions to help prioritize the list with the customer in mind. Which are relevant to how the customer competes in the marketplace? Make sure your entire organization is focused on the customer – asking questions and providing value but not just jumping to each, non-prioritized non-value added request.

2. It’s all about the people. It sounds strange for a discussion about innovation; however, the best people will create innovative ideas, products, and services. Consider asking your employees, your customers, your suppliers and other partners and trade associations. Undoubtedly, there will be a plethora of ideas.

Value the ideas, and give your employees room to try them out. The quickest way to kill a culture of innovation is to encourage ideas but not follow through and support them. It is much harder to implement than it sounds! In my experience, the first time an idea fails and causes month-end issues or customer problems, innovation is stifled. To counter this, we must reward mistakes (assuming it is not a repeated, same mistake) as it is a critical component of cultivating a culture of innovation. Have you thought about rewarding the best idea that didn’t work?

3. Flexibility: Do not become married to one idea, one product, one customer’s perception, etc. Instead, create solutions that build in flexibility – think of the nontraditional “and” of two, seemingly opposite ideas. For example, instead of thinking that reducing inventory will result in poor customer service, since you might not have as many products available to ship, think about how to reduce inventory and increase customer service simultaneously. Build flexibility into your people, processes, projects, staffing plans and the like so that you can respond rapidly to key customer requests without significant cost.

Since only those leaders who are innovative will THRIVE, please join us to hear the innovation masters discuss strategies for success.