Innovation: Why we should all do it

By Professor Danny Samson

Innovation involves implementing new or enhanced products, services, processes, management methods or business models. All sizes and types of organisations can benefit from innovation, when it is done well.

My colleagues and I in the Department of Management and Marketing have researched innovation practices using large surveys and a range of case studies, working with companies such as Microsoft, Toyota, NAB, as well as many smaller firms and government agencies.

Professor Danny Samson
Professor Danny Samson with Ann Margarita Reyes. Picture: Eugene Hyland

Our research, recently included in Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Creating New Value published by Oxford University Press, has identified ‘innovation best practices’ that work.

The whole idea of innovation is to create new and additional valuable outcomes for stakeholders, whether these be business (profit) value, health outcomes in hospitals, defence capabilities in the defence sector, or public value in government’s innovations or through not-for profit organisations.

Devise an innovation strategy

The creation and implementation of an innovation strategy is the first step to successfully innovate.  It should be hooked into the organisations broader business strategy, and focussed on directing the portfolio of innovation initiatives, that are actively managed, individually and collectively.

Innovation is supported by strong leadership

Strong leadership of innovation ensures that it is prioritised, humanised through role modelling and properly resourced. Great innovation leaders such as Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs are great examples and in Australia, we have written a case study about Ruslan Kogan who, in true entrepreneurial style, built his online retailer without any external investment.

Combined with a clear strategy are strong leadership as the drivers of innovation.

The organisational innovation system

There are several elements that comprise the organisational innovation system, including the process of decision making about which initiatives to resource and progress and which to ‘kill off’, and a strong customer focus that ultimately drives those resourcing decisions.

Successful organisations tend to maintain a balance of some radical innovation initiatives with mostly incremental innovations, using a consistent approach to managing risk and return. Last and by no means least is the behaviour and culture piece, meaning the workforce contribution. Since highly innovative organisations get their best ideas substantially from within, it is important to foster an engaged and active culture where employees participate energetically in project development.

Turning ideation into business success

At the individual project level, leading firms recognise how challenging it is to succeed in moving from ideation stage to commercialisation and business outcome success. They test their ideas continually, for scale-up potential, marketing potential, financial potential, intellectual property requirements and control, coherence with business strategy, legal and ethical compliance, sustainable development feasibility, and of course the attractiveness of the overall value proposition to a range of stakeholders.

This set of valuation criteria provides the discipline for choosing initiatives.

Image of student conversing
Master of Enterprise students, Alexander Grey and Melissa Hill. Picture: Eugene Hyland

We have been applying these ideas in our course developments for post-experience graduates at the Faculty of Business and Economics.

We offer two professional Master level degrees, Master of Supply Chain Management and Master of Enterprise , with highly innovative features. These degrees are laced with innovation content throughout their curriculum. Further, the format is innovative. Students attend Parkville campus in Melbourne for one week every three months, a total of six times, typically over 18 months. We allow students to start any time.

All assessments involve individual assignments that apply the subjects’ content and frameworks to the participating student’s workplace challenges and opportunities, hence providing direct benefits to employer organisations.

Students fly in from all over the world for the teaching week periods from as far afield as Perth, Auckland, Japan, China, Dubai every three months while others choose to reside in Melbourne. We have tried to apply the innovation principles listed above to our own enterprise!

As in all successful innovations, after the spark of creativity occurred in designing these courses, came the hard work of converting them from ideas into mainstream offerings in a large organisation, to achieve stakeholder benefits. We are continuing to innovate through online offerings.

The wonderful thing about innovation is that there is no limit to what is possible.

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