What is innovation

Graeme Miller, Head of Innovation at the Innovation SuperNetwork, has the answer.

‘Innovation’ has become one of those buzzwords we love to hate.

In fact, I think it’s fair to say it’s become somewhat overused and as such, people don’t really know what the term means anymore, or they misidentify its meaning.

The problem is that we mostly hear about big, disruptive innovation. We hear about the likes of Netflix, Uber and Elon Musk, making people think they need to do something that will make the headlines to be considered innovative. Or that innovation is only for a select few revolutionary people.

However, we’re here to show you that innovation comes in all shapes and sizes and any business, regardless of size, turnover, or sector, can be innovative.

Plus, if you’re based in Newcastle, Northumberland or North Tyneside, we may even be able to help you access funding to make your innovation project a reality with the North of Tyne Innovation Recovery Grant.

So, what is innovation?

First of all, the biggest problem is that innovation is often confused with ‘invention’. Both are used to define something new, but innovation must provide value to either the business or its customers. Invention is just something new. You could invent something tomorrow (like a phone on wheels) but it won’t be innovative unless it makes an impact!

The second biggest problem is people think innovation needs to be related to tech or science. Once again, things like cryptocurrency, self-driving cars and artificial intelligence are just the big innovations we hear about, making people think if they’re not in a cutting-edge sector, they can’t be innovative.

Research by Idea to Value saw fifteen innovation experts share their definition of ‘what innovation means’. This has led to a single distilled and ultimate definition:

Innovation is ‘executing an idea which addresses a specific challenge and achieves value for both the company and customer’.

Any idea, big or small can be innovative, as long as it has an impact.

You don’t need to be a unicorn or render a market leader obsolete to be innovative. Innovation happens all the time with small ‘breakthrough’ ideas that have a significant impact on the value of the business or its offering.

A great example of this comes from North-East based, Plastech Innovation which takes undesirable post-consumer plastic waste (the type that is sent to landfill or for incineration and processes it into novel aggregate for use in concrete and other construction materials. Plastech’s innovation benefits waste management and concrete companies by being more cost effective and environmentally friendly.

Plastech Innovation didn’t invent anything new. What they did was think of a new way of doing things that makes a difference. That’s innovation.

Why you should care about innovation

Maybe you thought your business couldn’t be innovative because there wasn’t scope to invent something new or revolutionise the market.

However, now that you know that innovation can be achieved by implementing something new that adds value, it’s a great opportunity to look at challenges your business faces and ask, ‘how do we improve this?’

This could be through any of the following:

  • New product or service
  • New process
  • Digitising or automating processes
  • New technology
  • New target audience
  • New way of using your product/service
  • New way of reducing cost
  • New way of reducing time

The simple act of thinking of things in a new way and implementing it could greatly reduce your costs, increase your revenue, and create greater value for your customers.

For example, the Innovation SuperNetwork recently worked with Northumbrian Water and automotive company, Ford, to identify how they could better help their van drivers use the front seat as an ‘office’ when out and about.

It resulted in a solution from rapid prototyping business, Amtech, who designed a box with moving parts to allow a driver to work from his van, meaning staff now could do their job with the right tools and equipment comfortably, adding value to employee happiness.

This is why innovation is one of the most important factors for business growth.

How do I know if I’m being innovative?

One of the biggest mistakes companies make is not knowing what innovation is and recognising when they are in fact being innovative. Lots of businesses miss out on opportunities, funding, and events because they think they’re not innovative.

If you’re a business that regularly evaluates the value you deliver and looks at whether you can make improvements by implementing new ideas, processes or technology – then you’re being innovative.

However, the key word here is ‘implement’ – businesses often believe thinking of ideas is innovation, however thinking of something new is being creative, implementing something new is being innovative.

If you’ve implemented new processes, systems, or technology, or have launched entirely new products to market, increasing your business productivity, performance or efficiency, it means you’re increasing value to your customers, so keep up the good work.

Innovation is key to business growth and success, and it sounds like you’re doing just that. 

How do I implement innovation in my business?

By now, you’ll have realised you don’t need to invent something new, disrupt a market, or be the next tech mogul to be considered ‘innovative’, but how do you implement innovation in your business? If you’re looking to grow your business, be more successful and more competitive through innovation, here’s how you do it:

  1. Identify challenges your business faces and look at the way these can be changed and improved with something new.
  2. Take a deeper look into your target audience and the market you occupy. Are there any opportunities for you to add more value or to do something new and different? Taking a refreshed look at your target market is one way to see if there’s a way in which you can be more innovative.
  3. Question every element of your business process from beginning to end and ask yourself if there’s a way of improving the efficiency in any of these areas or if there’s another market or audience that you could add value to. Drone AG just received innovation grant funding for using their drone automation services to help farmers monitor and manage their crops. Drone technology already existed, the company did something innovative by applying its use to a new sector.
  4. A lot of businesses focus on thinking of new ways of being innovative, instead of implementing them. Take the best two or three ideas you have and take the leap of faith and move from idea generation to implementation.
  5. Talk to your team. If you’re a business owner, you’ll have a good idea of the success of your business. However, by talking to your employees you might discover potential improvements, challenges or opportunities that could benefit from some innovative thinking.

So, now you know that innovation isn’t solely about revolutionary products and disrupting the sector. It’s about solving problems and creating value in new ways, which can be done in any business of any size in any sector.

Innovation is key to business growth and success. Thinking more innovatively can help you increase productivity, performance and efficiency, all of which adds value to both your business and your customers, which will impact your bottom line.

If you’re working on an innovative project or looking to the future and are based in Newcastle, Northumberland or North Tyneside, then take a look at the North of Tyne Innovation Recovery Grant which could contribute 50% of grant funding towards innovative equipment projects costing between £5,000 – £20,000 or projects involving external expertise that cost between £8,000 and £20,000 – a perfect opportunity to get your innovation off the ground. Alternatively get in touch with us via [email protected] to see how we can help.