20/11/2017 16:52 SAST | Updated 21/11/2017 13:07 SAST

Don’t Be A Sleepist -- Why Embracing Innovation In Your Business Is More Important Than Ever

The challenge of embracing innovation in your business and how to get over it.


There are a number of things that are said to be threats to your business these days. Innovation (or the lack thereof) is one of them. A study done by McKinsey found that most companies see the importance of innovation but few of them actually do it. In fact, only 6% of executives are satisfied with their innovation performance!

According to the 2016 Global Innovation Index, South Africa ranked 54th (out of 100 countries), behind countries like Mauritius, Thailand and Chile. The ranking is based on 82 indicators across seven areas: institutions, human capital and research, infrastructure, market sophistication, business sophistication, knowledge and both technology and creative outputs.

How we think of innovation may be what's wrong with our embracing of it. What is certain is that innovation – of any kind – is vital for boosting our ailing economy. Here, we give you the challenges of embracing innovation and how you can get over them.

Get your mind out of Hollywood

Business Strategy Consultant and Director at KPMG's Global Brexit Unit, Rohitesh Dhawan makes a comparison between 'Hollywood' or 'big bang' disruption (radical innovation) and Jugaad innovation.

"The most meaningful innovation doesn't happen in a 'big bang' way. People are starting to recognise the value in innovation types like Jugaad innovation, where the principles are: make a plan when faced with a real problem, especially in the absence of money and time."

He says that the other issue is that organisations have become like drug addicts for quick wins. He points to the fact that innovations like Apple's iPhone, which was a disruption in the cellphone market, actually started as an incremental innovation (continuous small improvements), with extensions of the phone being hugely disruptive.

He emphasises the need for companies to ensure that innovation is purpose-driven. "Done right, innovation can be a powerful way of unlocking energy for social good. Some of the people making money out of incremental innovations are putting that money into doing more disruptive things. As in the case of Microsoft, which is largely incremental in the things it does and is now using some of that money to solving some of the world's problems."

Some like it slow

Dr Jeff Y-J Chen, Innopreneurship Catalyst and lecturer at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), says that there is no silver bullet or blueprint for corporate innovation.

"Innovation starts with people... The question should be: 'How do you contribute to people's lives to be better?' And then 'how do you take the idea forward'. The first idea is not usually the greatest idea."

He says that organisations should look at shifting their thinking from disruptive to displacive. He makes the example of start-ups that came from the idea of Uber. "Sometimes a disrupter comes in like Uber and a displacive company will watch what they do, take the same concept and just do things like customer service and marketing better than your Uber," he says.

He advises companies looking to innovate to: "Look for what people really need and surround yourself with great people, then come up with a great process and incrementally improve."

Employees need a space to innovate

On the culture of innovation... CEO of Transunion Africa, Lee Naik is an advocate of building a culture around innovation.

Naik says:

"Innovation is not about a crazy idea or concept – it's about how we find new ways to service and deliver solutions to our target audience. How do we innovate so we are solving a real pain point for our customers, or how does this innovation allow us to go after a new market – it's about creating loyal customers and growing market share."

He adds that unfortunately companies still think of innovation as a distraction from the 'real' work. "Innovation needs a space where risk-free experimentation can take place, and the inside of a corporation certainly isn't it. 'Celebrate Innovation Monday' all you want, the same hierarchies, legacy systems and rigid thinking will still be there to stifle new ideas for the rest of the week," he says.

It's never too late, just don't sleep on innovation.

Speaking of innovative solutions... have a look at the Nedbank Money™ app, a part of a concerted push to highlight several ground-breaking digital retail banking innovative solutions designed to provide safe, convenient and cost-effective client experiences: www.nedbank.co.za/moneyapp