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Posted on December 20, 2016 by staff

Rawling’s World: Four tips for company innovation

Hardly a day goes by without UK businesses being told they must innovate.

But how do you become more innovative, when the day-to-day business pressures never go away?

“Of course you keep your eye on business today, otherwise there won’t be a tomorrow,” says Paul Mason from Innovate UK.

“But you must make some conscious and intelligent effort towards the future.”

So what could that effort look like?

Here are four tips from entrepreneurs, inventors and experts.

1. Love your problem

Chakshu Saharan grew up in Delhi. “The threat of sexual violence was an everyday affair for Indian girls and women,” she recalls.

Now she’s harnessing the Internet of Things to make cheap, connected personal safety devices for women in cities like Delhi.

Saharan, like many innovators, has found a problem she just can’t walk away from.

“Frankly we can’t wait 50 or 60 years for men’s attitudes to change”, she says.

“In the meantime technology can help make cities safe for 50 per cent of the population.”

Danny Manu is preparing to launch his Mymanu earbud headphones that can rapidly translate conversations in any of 37 languages.

“Find a problem, find what people want, what they need. If there’s not a solution available, make one,” he says.

“That’s how you start to innovate.”

2. Technology helps innovation

Asif Moghal is the manufacturing industry manager at Autodesk and says technology removes the barrier to innovation.

“You can capture ideas, visualise or simulate them and answer your ‘what if?’ questions before committing,” he says.

Chakshu Saharan is a self-confessed non-techie and says technology is an enabler rather than the end game.

“If you want a new dress you go out and buy it, you don’t make it yourself,” he explains.

“If technology is part of your product, go out and talk to technologists. They are usually willing to help”

3. Leadership and culture

Most companies are full of problem solvers, according to John Pelton, who led innovation at the multi-billion pound Crossrail project.

“It is extraordinary how many good ideas people in a company will have,” he says.

“It’s equally extraordinary how often you hear ‘nobody listened’.”  For Pelton, it’s about leadership.

Dick Elsy, from Innovate UK’s Catapult programme, says it’s not rocket science.

“Give people a light-touch environment, devoid of politics and heavy-handed management, and they’ll naturally collaborate.”

Paul Mason adds: “Put the best people in your team on innovation. Give it really senior support. And make it a regular agenda item at your management meetings.”

If your workforce is not very diverse, do something about it, says McKinsey expert Tera Allas, who is a visiting fellow at the McKinsey Global Institute.

“When you put people together from different backgrounds they come up with better solutions,” she says.

She cites evidence that firms with more diverse workforces are 70 per cent more likely to enter new markets.

“Diversity creates dissent but dissent is necessary for a business to survive.”

4. Fear of failure

Fear can stop people trying something new. What seems to unite the innovators in Manchester is their fear of missing out is stronger than their fear of messing up.

One entrepreneur – who’d sold his house to raise capital – told me it’s better to lie awake at night worrying about the future of your business than lie there fuming over the frustrations of corporate life.

“I didn’t want to reach 50 and look back regretting what I didn’t try”, he confided.

“Come in to a Catapult centre,” enthuses Dick Elsy. “Try something, don’t be embarrassed.

“Other people around you are wrestling with technology and failing too. We give you permission to fail behind closed doors, then emerge with the right solution.”

Autodesk’s Asif Moghal is blunt when I ask about the fear that something new might fail:  “Do you want to be in business in three years’ time? If the answer’s yes, there’s only one way – innovate.”