In our increasingly global marketplace, companies of all sizes need to remain at the cutting-edge of technology and use their creative energies to stay competitive, now more than ever. A ‘thinking outside the box’ mentality is something that should be embraced across all sectors in order to allow small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular to compete on a level playing field with larger global players.
While there is broad awareness of the benefits innovation can bring to a business, Britain has recently fallen short of productivity expectations <#_ftn1> – despite an increase in economic growth in 2014. Therefore, encouraging businesses to be innovative and enhance their performance is now top of the agenda for organisations, such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), as well as government bodies, who are keen to see British industries thrive.
Defining innovation and putting theory into practice
Yet for many businesses, there is still a question mark around what innovation actually is and why it’s important to encourage a creative culture where innovation can thrive. By definition, innovation refers to changing and creating more effective processes, products and ideas in an inventive way, which go above and beyond monitoring industry trends to affect demonstrable change in the marketplace.
Without innovation behind it, a business can quickly become commoditised, more generic and therefore less relevant to the marketplace and customers. Innovation is therefore important in helping differentiate a company from its competitors, by improving service levels to existing customers and identifying new ones to drive growth. In order to achieve this there are a number of things SMEs can implement to keep the innovative spirit alive, such as:
- Encourage staff to be innovators – your staff can be the ultimate foundation for innovation. You can encourage innovative thinking amongst your entire team by fostering a culture of collaboration, hosting group planning and feedback sessions in order to set the bar for ideas to flow freely. Business owners should look to lead by example by sharing overarching company aims for the future with staff and inviting their input. This demonstrates respect for their opinions, which will ultimately motivate them.
- Use technology – technology can be a great facilitator to innovation in the workplace by assisting in certain areas, such as research and development. Technology can also help a company improve its business processes, stay ahead of trends and quickly adapt to the changing marketplace. At FedEx we use technology to streamline our supply chain, so whether it’s the physical movement of goods, monitoring inventories in different places or securing access to new locations, we are always looking at ways of embracing new technologies to benefit our customers, our business, and the world around us.
- Communicate creatively– communication is an area companies of all sizes should look to evolve and remain competitive in. Owing to social media, businesses of all sizes can share their content with hundreds, if not thousands, of followers at a time. Like everything in business, communication is evolving and adapting to social media and can contribute to success and growth across all areas of a company. From learning about your audience via social listening, finding new customers, to getting instant feedback, social media can underpin a company’s success if used correctly and creatively.
- Focus on new product development – this is a crucial way a company can be innovative, spearheading its growth to stay at the leading-edge of its sector. By implementing the above tips, businesses can gain crucial insight into the thought processes of their internal and external audiences, allowing them to develop products that staff can get behind, and that customers want. They can build a personality for their brand, and develop products that identify and reflect core company values.
One UK business doing just that is SureFlap, a pet technology company based in Cambridge. SureFlap is a prime example of how an original innovative product: a battery powered microchip activated cat flap, can be developed with creative thinking into an entire range.
Founded by an avid cat lover in 2009, SureFlap has gone from strength-to-strength and has doubled its turnover. Its product range has expanded and now, as well as the original cat flap, includes: a larger size Microchip Pet Door, for large cats and small dogs; and a DualScan Cat Flap, for homes where some pets need to be kept indoors whilst others are allowed out. At the end of 2014, SureFlap also launched a Microchip Pet Feeder that stops pets from stealing each other’s food – especially handy if one animal’s food is medicated.
SureFlap demonstrates how a company can expand its product offering within a certain field, in this case pioneering pet care products, as well as attracting new clients, since it now attracts more than just cat owners.
"Innovation is anything, but business as usual" captures the importance of innovation in business in the 21st century. Using a simple yet effective idea, SureFlap is just one of many businesses in the UK reaping the rewards of innovative thinking – with its products now being exported across the globe. No matter how big or small, established or new to the market a company is, my recommendation is to take inspiration from those that are already going for it: look at the creativity around you, be bold, and innovate!