Managing innovation - Marketing Strategy

The term ‘innovation’ means different things to different people, with common definitions relating to scientific advance and the development of high-technology products. However, the reality is that innovation is a far broader activity. Essentially, innovation is about changing established products, processes and practices. Innovation must blend creativity, clear thinking and the ability to get things done into one process .Ultimately, the market place will judge innovation. New ideas need support, commitment and resources if they are to be effectively implemented.

Organizations cannot remain focused on the past.The static organization that believes ‘the old ways are the best’ will flounder. Innovation means change. Such changes are not normally single events,but are complex combinations of actions and functional activity. Note that innovation and invention are not one and the same, as innovation is concerned with the commercial application of ideas. Senior management should address the issue of innovation and create a culture and infrastructure to support the process. After all, organizations that continue to learn and effectively translate this learning into product offerings are the ones who will prosper.

Innovation creates the environment for successful product development. Product improvement and modification, product imitation and product innovation (where the product is truly new or novel – see Figure above)all stem from the overall process of innovation. Having established the importance of innovation, how do organizations facilitate the process? Figure below summarizes common enablers.

Teamwork is vital, as successful innovation requires a combination of skills and functional activity (e.g. marketing, research and design). Innovation tends to flourish where frequent contact and good working relationships exist among groups. The exchange of information and ideas should be encouraged, as this not only facilitates innovation but also enhances teamwork. Information flow and effective communication contribute greatly to creativity. However, it is important to recognize that more information is not necessarily better – information overload should be avoided. There is a need to be focused on the external environment. External inputs relating to market trends, customer perception, technological development and competitor activities are vital inputs into the overall process. The organization must be receptive to new ideas/change and have the capacity to evaluate such concepts. Clearly, senior management has a role to play in the process. They need to develop appropriate strategies and act as facilitators to the process. This normally involves taking calculated risks and allocating required resources(see the following section). Consequently, senior managers need to be committed to long-term growth as opposed to short-term profit. If it is to work properly,innovation requires the correct systems and support. Frequently, this relates to organizational culture. Creating the right organizational climate is important, as the wish is to challenge existing practice and generate creativity. Systems, such as communications networks, computer-aided design and project management structures, need to be in place.

The organization must foster and exploit innovation. Group and individual motivation are important. Reward and recognition for innovation helps generate ideas and fosters collaborative atmosphere. Additionally, the role of the individual must not be neglected in the discussion of innovation. While the organization can facilitate and foster innovation, individuals have to take ownership. People need to have the courage, skill and motivation to make things better. Only this type of commitment will see the process to completion.

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