In today’s competitive business environment, innovation has become the biggest source of competitive advantage for many companies. Innovation means coming out with a completely new product or product feature or service that was not seen before. Innovation can also be in the area of processes too where a business creates a completely new process of doing things.
Companies like Google and Apple have gained their competitive advantage through innovation. Google came out with a highly sophisticated search engine for the first time (it was not the first to come with a search engine though) while Apple came up with a smartphone that had features not seen before.
In order for a company to become innovative, the first step is to define what the business means by innovation. Once innovation has been defined from the perspective of the business and its needs, the resources required for supporting innovation should be provided to employees. These resources include investments in research & development capabilities. For instance Google provides its employees with sophisticated research laboratories and other tools required for research in the area of information technology.
The leadership of the business should show complete support for employees who have a creative outlook. If new ideas fail on implementation then such failure should be treated as a learning experience and not as a failure. Innovative organizations tend to have a very positive attitude towards failure.If a business wants to become innovative then it should not be too control-oriented. It should give freedom of thought and expression to employees. Employees should not be afraid in expressing their ideas to their superiors and seniors. Therefore businesses having a democratic style of leadership are more successful at innovation while those having an authoritarian style are less successful.
Practices like mapping of all the new ideas that are generated in the organization can go a long way in increasing the rate of innovation. Too much emphasis on bureaucracy and formal plans about proposed new ideas can have the effect of stifling innovation.Some empirical evidence suggests that organizations that are too much about Six Sigma and lean manufacturing may find their innovation rate slowing down.
Six sigma and other process improvement tools are to be applied on existing processes. Their principles cannot be applied in the area of innovation. So businesses will do well if they do not try to apply the established principles of Six Sigma on new ideas and concepts. When a new product or service idea comes up and the idea looks feasible enough to be implemented then it should be implemented. If it succeeds the business will prosper; if it fails then the business would become wiser.