15 Innovation Strategies to Get a Competitive Edge

Innovation strategies are essential for organizations that want to survive and thrive.

From Google to Amazon to Apple, we’ve seen countless companies generate explosive profits, all thanks to innovation.

We’ve also seen what happens to companies that don’t innovate, such as Borders and Blockbuster.

Digital-First Innovation Strategies

Digital innovation and disruption are the bread and butter of today’s most successful enterprises.

Here are a few ways to make your business more digitally innovative:

  1. Automate

Automation is on the rise – and for good reason.

It gets results.

Automation saves time, speeds up workflows, and frees up human time for more important activities.

  1. Exploit AI

AI has many applications, delivering better results than humans could in many areas.

A few use cases include:

  • Data analysis and insights
  • Predicting user or customer behavior
  • Optimizing any type of business process

Google, for instance, reduced data center cooling bills by 40% with AI.

  1. Test Cutting-Edge Tools

Today, innovation is driven by technology.

There are countless digital tools being released every day.

It’s not even necessary to exploit your own tools to gain a competitive edge … there are plenty of advanced tools you can use.

These can include enterprise automation solutions, such as those developed by IBM.

They can include digital adoption platforms, like WalkMe.

Or they can include any of the countless marketing tools being released almost daily.

  1. Create a Digital Culture

Some companies still resist technology. Or they don’t embrace it fully.

Every bit of resistance reduces ROI from digital technology.

And it inhibits innovation.

Digitally mature companies embrace technology, digital workflows, and the digital workplace.

Remote work, online collaboration, and e-learning are a few ways to make your workplace more innovative and modern.

Making Innovation Permanent

Innovation shouldn’t have a start and end date.

It should become permanently fused in your organization.

Here are a few ways to do that.

  1. Budget Time for Innovation

At one point, Google set aside one day per week for innovation.

This “innovation system” produced plenty of new ideas.

It was replaced with a more focused approach to innovation.

However, this approach resulted in some of Google’s most successful products, such as Gmail.

And as we’ll see below, Google still invests very heavily in innovation.

  1. Create Innovation Teams

Innovation teams don’t need to be isolated inside R & D.

They can be cross-disciplinary teams scattered across departments.

This can be a part-time assignment, working with whatever budget your company can allot.

  1. Create a Culture of Innovation

Make it normal.

In fact, encourage it and reward it.

Welcome ideas from anywhere, and make it clear that your doors are open for business.

  1. Be Ambitious

Set goals much higher than you normally would.

Naturally, investment carries risk and it pays to be prudent.

But overly conservative business philosophies don’t create innovative ideas.

  1. Invest in Research and Development

If you have the authority to create a budget for research and development, then make it a priority.

Research and development, as mentioned, is critical for gaining and maintaining a competitive edge.

For example, Google’s R & D budget is in the several billions of dollars – twice the budget of DARPA.

  1. Sell Business Leaders on the Principle of Innovation

Innovation cannot happen without support from the top.

Make buy-in a top priority, because without it, you’ll never get the budget you need to innovate.

Sell them on the benefits of innovation, emphasizing that:

  • Speed is “the ultimate weapon” in today’s economy
  • Innovation and disruption create marketplace dominance, not hesitancy and risk aversion
  • A philosophy of innovation will improve the workplace, the organization, and offer competitive advantages

There are many arguments in favor of an innovative philosophy.

Brainstorm as many as you can, then craft them into a sales argument.

This is essential to developing an adaptable, innovative organization.

Evolving Your Business Model

Your business model itself may be a relic of the past.

Today, digital technology has changed the way we communicate and do business.

Take advantage of these new business models to enable innovative processes … and get rid of systems that hinder it.

  1. Be Human-Centric

Put users, customers, and employees at the center of your business models.

This mindset is what drove Amazon to become the giant it is today.

And it is one being adopted by countless organizations around the world.

It is also used in many formalized business methods, such as lean and agile, mentioned below.

  1. Experiment Often

Remember that innovative companies are always trying new things.

While some of these experiments may fail, they are just experiments.

Google Glass failed – and it cost money – but it provided valuable data and did not break the organization.

The key, as with any investment, is not to spend more than you can afford to lose.

Using the methods below, you can learn to start small, then use user feedback to learn quickly.

  1. Be Lean

Lean thinking is a business approach modeled around:

  • User feedback and testing
  • Customer-driven products and features
  • Constant iteration and testing

This approach can be applied to any business process, project, or program.

Organizational change programs or software deployments, for instance, can start small and inform their growth with user feedback.

  1. Be Agile

Agile software development is another popular approach, which has also been applied to other business practices.

Change management is an example.

Agile change management applies agile methods – such as responsiveness and constant collaboration – to change management practices.

The result is a business model that accepts change as natural. This, in turn, boosts responsiveness, flexibility, and adaptability.

  1. Acquire Innovative Talent (Or Companies)

One straightforward way to be more innovative is to hire innovative people.

To continue with the Google example, they don’t just hire innovative people to maintain an innovative edge – they acquire innovative companies.

Hiring innovative talent will, of course, help generate new ideas, products, and systems. But it will also help the workplace itself become more innovative.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.