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December 02, 2013 03:50 PM

Martian Adventures & Innovation

Those with an eye for innovation will have noted the recent launch of the Indian mission to Mars. While they haven’t got there yet, at time of writing all seems to be progressing nicely.

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Quite apart from the desire to be the first Asian country to reach Mars, what is it that motivates a society like India to take up these challenges?

By extension, what innovation processes are necessary to achieve such a goal?

The Psychology Wiki defines innovation as referring “to both radical or incremental changes to products, processes or services. The often unspoken goal of innovation is to solve a problem.”

Some may argue that there is no problem to be solved by sending a spaceship hurtling towards Mars, and the real problem remains at home with poverty and other social ills.

But such innovation more often than not adds value to society in the broader global context. In addition, those countries and enterprises that do not innovate run a real danger of being surpassed or destroyed by those that do.

There are two basic types of innovation; sustaining and disruptive. For companies, the former means continuing to approach their core markets in a similar fashion, while the latter “significantly changes a market or product category”.

By now most people recognise that innovation and a good dose of creativity are essential to an organizations’ survival. Globalization, increased competition and the increasingly rapid changes in technology, mean that those enterprises that do not change and adapt simply wither on the vine and die.

Paul Simpson, writing about the psychology of innovation, says:

“Homo sapiens have, since the 10 commandments, had a bit of a soft spot for concise lists which tell us what to do. They imply that if we follow their advice we will be suitably rewarded.

But the bad news about innovation is that suggestion-boxes, brainstorming sessions, away days, consultants and 183 techniques to encourage creativity (as listed on Wikipedia) won’t, by themselves, transform your business into the kind of free-thinking, ground-breaking, market-leading corporate utopia you might be hoping for“.

Innovation is really all about company culture and not fancy creativity suites. It also takes dedicated time and sufficient budget.

Ranjeet Laungani, Nielsen’s VP for Innovation Practice, recently examined how India innovates. Five of his key findings were:

  • It takes 50% of Indian companies one to two years to bring an innovation from concept to launch.
  •  In the year that they launch their innovation they spend as much as 34% of their budget on advertising and another 30% on trade and consumer promotion.
  • 75% of organisations measure the level of innovation success by their growth in market share. This followed by brand awareness and health measures and the Return On Investment (ROI) that the innovation has delivered.
  • Nine out of 10 organizations surveyed identified that sharp consumer insight led to innovations in their organisations.
  • 20% of industry professionals across sectors relayed that more than 25% of their ideas made it to the shelves

Ranjeet also reminds us that 90% of newly introduced products fail in the year they launch, so innovation is not in itself a guarantee of success.

There are also several factors that can impede the progress of innovation within an enterprise. These include:

  • Too lengthy a period from idea to market
  •  Long-term strategic planning being hijacked by short-term priorities
  • Insufficient budget to fund innovation
  • Internal teams with conflicting priorities
  • An unwillingness to accept that failure is very much part of the innovation process

So while the success of a mission to Mars cannot be guaranteed, it does prove the point that any innovation is based on risk taking. As the old adage says “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.

Amartya Sen, the winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Economics, hypothesises that development is the key to freedom. Perhaps ultimately it is this motivation that drives mankind to innovate.

Business Innovation

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