Innovate or die. That’s the reality for the tech industry. If your company can’t adapt to a fast-changing competitive environment, another company will. The landscape is littered with once-mighty companies upended by start-ups.
Still, once you’re through the start-up phase, innovation brings risks. How can you make sure that new ideas support your business model and please your customers? How can you channel creativity through the unique set of constraints and objectives that your business faces? The answer: pragmatic innovation.
Pragmatic innovation means developing new ideas that work within the real, defined parameters of your business. It’s not just creativity for its own sake, but rather innovation designed to help you reach your goals. Here are some ways to jump-start pragmatic innovation at your company:
• Seek collaboration: Many tech companies are forging partnerships as a way to innovate. For instance, recently Intel and ARM announced that they will be working together more closely. IBM and Cisco have partnered to integrate collaboration tools including Cisco’s WebEx and Spark and IBM’s Verse and Connections with IBM’s Watson cognitive computing capabilities. These partnerships allow tech companies to focus on their own competitive strengths while adding capabilities developed by other companies.
• Set strategic focus: Pragmatic innovation doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It works to solve real problems that your company faces. Have customers been complaining about a specific issue with one of your products or services? Are your products selling well to some market segments but failing to make inroads in others? Give your team a specific challenge to work on.
• Get diverse opinions: Involve people from many different parts of your company in the problem-solving process. Software engineers, designers, marketers, customer service personnel, and finance people all have different insights into the business challenges you face. Often it’s putting together ideas from different areas of the business that results in the most creative solutions.
• Engage your suppliers: You can also gain insight from your vendors about how you can meet business objectives more effectively.
• Build real-world applications: Pragmatic innovation integrates new ideas into existing products and processes. Enlist engineers and product developers to put new strategies into practice, and then test them with customers.
• Measure results: Track the progress of new initiatives with concrete, measurable performance indicators such as production cost, sales increases, returns, customer satisfaction, or other relevant standards.
Pragmatic innovation delivers solid, useable insight into what your company is doing now. It’s a great way to hone strategies and products that are already working.
Still by focusing on your business as it is today, this approach can miss game-changing shifts that can create an entire industry or product line. Unconstrained innovation gave Apple the original iPhone; pragmatic innovation delivered the iPhone 7. Most companies need both — a steady commitment to pragmatic innovation and occasional sessions of blue-sky idea generation. You need to think outside the box, but also creatively inside it.
For more information on innovation, please read our report: “Avoiding New Product Development Traps”, or our blogs: “How Important Is Innovation to Your Brand?” and “A Brand’s Vision & Identity Should Drive the Product Development Process.”