By Tej Kohli, international businessman & philanthropist
Innovate or Die! This is the phrase that every student of business and management has had drummed into them. First by their professors, and then by the brand managers of the companies they go to work for.
It is something that many businesses claim to do, but many do not do well, despite the fundamental truth behind the saying. Companies that hope to rest on their laurels, and do the same thing they have always done, cannot hope to thrive in a modern, global and cut-throat economy. The global market is changing and expanding, new customers are emerging with different needs and demands. Companies need to find new, cost-effective and low-risk ways of reaching these potential clients. Even traditional ‘heritage’ brands must find new ways to bring much-loved products and services to market, and find new ways to tap into a changing customer profile.
Technology is obviously the driver behind much innovation. We simply have to consider the way that basic consumer goods are displayed, purchased, exchanged and delivered to see that this is true. Business-to-business operations have been facilitated by greater use of web services and integrated platforms.
But even global technology companies have to innovate. Apple is the name on everyone’s lips, thanks to its constant reinvention of products, its focus on understanding what customers want next, and its knack of changing expectations about what gadgets should do.
Meanwhile many of the giants of the early 20th century – when Apple was in the doldrums – have disappeared or gone down completely new paths. Compaq, once one of the biggest box-makers in the world, is no more. On the other hand, fellow OEM IBM is now solely focused on services – its iconic ThinkPad is now made by Lenovo. When we think of the Internet, we think of Google, which has achieved its position by developing an unbeatable core proposition and not being afraid to experiment with related services.
This is where the trick to successful innovation lies. It is about understanding what makes your company successful in the first place, and maintaining that as a core focus.
However, that must be accompanied by a company-wide understanding that just because a service or product is a core focus, it is not set in stone. If circumstances change, then the business should change with them. If there are alternatives or improvements they can be discussed, modelled and tested. A core product offering also means there are ways to add new complementary services. As a provider of e-commerce services, I am always looking for new ways to facilitate B2C and C2C payments, for example, or ways to help online retail customers expand their service into new territories.
Google has a widely-lauded laboratory environment to encourage creative thinking and new ideas. It is a model to emulate for even the most humble of businesses. No-one should be afraid to express ideas, or challenge long-held precepts. Information sharing should be encouraged and the opinions of young people sought to keep products current. Locking up ideas or trying to make people fit into a pre-existing mould can only limit a company’s prospects. Instead, companies need to make sure they have the communication channels that will unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of its greatest asset – its people.