In my last blog post, I explored why everyone isn’t innovating if it’s so important. I surmised that innovation can be evolutionary as well as revolutionary. In this scenario, I would like to offer 3 steps to approach evolutionary innovation. How is it possible to have your cake and eat it – to keep up with your urgent tasks while moving forward at the same time? Various solutions have been put forward, such as the idea of bimodal IT. From what I’ve experienced, a good, pragmatic approach is to follow what is sometimes called “evolutionary innovation”. By building incrementally on what you have, it’s often possible to push forward with innovation without putting everything else on hold or disrupting business-as-usual. Let’s look at how to approach evolutionary innovation under three headings:

  1. Build on what you have
  2. Make the most of the available ideas
  3. Be ready to fail

Uniface Innovation

  1. Build on what you have 

An idea doesn’t have to be brand new to be innovative. It’s often about doing the same thing better. Think about mobile phones. An initial step was going from wired to cordless. Since then, we have seen a lot of evolutionary steps, bringing us to the smartphones we use today. There have of course been some revolutionary jumps; however, for the most part, the innovation has been evolutionary. Rather than await a flash of inspiration and light-bulb “eureka moment” – going from nothing to revolution – we can innovate by listening to people’s challenges and turning these into creative new ideas. Those ideas can often be implemented with what you already have. In the case of IT innovation, it’s possible to work with solutions that take care of encapsulating technical complexity. That way, you can quickly utilize your existing business assets, getting more out them, with zero (or minimal) rework effort. For example, you may be able to move a legacy application to the web without rewriting core business code. This means you have the time and resources to go on continuously improving your solutions to keep pace with business, consumer and technological change.

  1. Make the most of the available ideas 

It’s important to listen to what other people are thinking – everyone is innovating. The best ideas of all will often come from your own workforce, so it is important to find ways to develop this important resource. With the consumerization of IT and the 24x7 access available to users, particularly through smart devices, the era of apps, bots and assistants sparks many ideas and demands. Combined with the many continually improving features available on these devices, the scope to innovate is immense. Organizations should try to provide employees with “play time”. Children learn and very rapidly develop through playing; the adult version of this is called R&D. Unfortunately, as we mature, the amount of play appears to decline. Organizations should aim for a range of individual and group activities such as personal experimentation time and team hackathons. It’s important to include individual activities as well as group ones because not all ideas come to the surface in the context of a group, especially if a few people are particularly dominant. As simple as this last statement may seem, it is often overlooked. The trick is to strike the right balance between business tasks, prescribed learning, and play time. When you hit the sweet spot, you may be surprised how many ideas you have at your disposal – who knows, you may even have enough to spin off additional solution offerings or even new business entities.

  1. Be ready to fail 

With any form of innovation, you must be prepared for some of your ideas not to work. Eddie Obeng’s TED talk on Smart Failure for a Fast-Changing World memorably captures why this is so important. We don’t experiment enough, and although companies pay lip service to the idea that it’s OK to fail, they often find it hard to follow through. This is one of the biggest blockers to innovation, and we need to overcome it. We have to find ways to experiment with new ideas, some of which will fail. We must ensure that businesses of all sizes fully understand and account for this requirement. If we take the phrase “Be ready to fail” and replace the word fail with experiment, test, try, learn, play, develop, grow, evolve or many similar words, the emotional response is very different – however, the end goal remains the same. Whatever word we choose, the process of innovation is normally iterative. It is important to understand this principle and not give up at the first hurdle. This series is based on the paper: Agility and Innovation in Application and Mobile Development. You can download the paper here.

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