Is innovation a first-class citizen in your company?
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Here are some steps for an organisation to go about getting used to innovating on the fly and treat it as a day-to-day affair 


Kiran Divakaran


Innovation gets pushed aside when organisations focus their efforts on getting their acts during turnarounds and otherwise. They need serious rethinking and efforts in the right direction to set the organisation on the path to innovating with speed and reduced cost. 


How should organisations achieve this when doing the routine work itself saps it of its vital elements -- time and resources -- which are a premium? 


Here are some steps for an organisation to go about getting used to innovating on the fly and treat it as a day-to-day affair and doing it alongside everything else.


1. Firstly, decentralise innovation 


Innovation has to be decentralised in companies. There cannot be a top down or bottom up approach. If people feel innovation is only the key performance indicator of a chosen few, then you will find innovation in streaks and not serve the holistic purpose of everyone in the company thinking on those lines. It has to come from everyone to succeed. A coffee boy, a watchman or a long-time customer can bring in ideas on the table to better the product. 



2. Create innovation sandboxes 


Have you seen kids on a beach having fun with sand in their hair and wind on their cheeks? This kind of atmosphere allows them to have fun and build castles and make and break them to create different structures. This enables them to create structures at no cost except that they love what they are doing and are totally engaged. Companies need to create this kind of culture where employees can let their hair loose and create stuff and get stuff done. This requires good management support and commitment from the stakeholder. Innovation needs freedom and a culture that supports it and not stifles it.


3.  Make failure fashionable and less expensive


It is said the first human genome took 10 years and $1.5 billion to sequence and now it takes 24 hours and costs $1,000. 


The more agile the company is, the easier it is to create a culture where the company has a 'fail fast and fail forward' culture. If you fail, it means you have learnt something from it and set up means and ways to reduce the cost of failure by rapid prototyping and taking it to the client. When a company has an environment where people can make quick experiments, the cost of failure is reduced with each iteration and learning forward. When this environment is there, magic happens and the company as a whole is on the verge of trying out simultaneous innovative initiatives. 


As per the law of averages, some of them will see the light of the day and can itself be worth the effort of accepting risk and failing. Every time the team fails, plough back the lessons learnt into the system and make them better with each iteration. This would mean rewiring failure into the organisational mind-set where all are encouraged to feel they are moving forward with the quick lessons they learnt.


4. The Amazon Flywheel Effect


Innovation can be achieved by a lot of proven best practices from frameworks, proven customer wins and strategies. But what is central is embedding that as a part of your company's DNA. One can learn from the Amazon way of using innovation as a part of their culture where they have created hotbeds of innovation and a place where experiments can be done dirt cheap and the turnaround time to pivot from a failed idea is quick. 


What Amazon did is famously called the Amazon's 'Flywheel Effect' which Dr Werner Vogel of the company keeps referring at most industry briefings. This is how it works. The cost of failure is reduced continuously by adopting measures that allow for rapid prototyping and experimentation. This has allowed Amazon to reduce the price of Amazon Web Services by 45 times at the last count. Due to reduced price, more customers are tempted to use its services which allow for more features to be made open and tested by a huge pool of customers who provide for feedback in terms of bugs and issues and allow for more exposure and customer engagement with increasing numbers and repeating.

This fly wheel effect has allowed AWS in achieving 78 per cent year-on-year revenue growth compared to other large cap enterprise vendors on this list that had an average growth rate of a mere 6 per cent. Microsoft is at 12 per cent, SAP at 4 per cent, Oracle at 3 per cent and IBM at -7 per cent.


Finally, innovation should not be allowed to take a backseat and should always be given a first-class citizen status if companies have to stay relevant in times of disruption.

For a detailed understanding of the topic, watch the webinar: Innovation in Enterprises - How do you go about the same?


Kiran Divakaran  is an enterprise architect at Eturnti Enterprise Consulting