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Since winning the National Telstra Business Women’s Award – Innovation, in December, I have been asked by a number of people about what innovation means to RedBalloon. Also what sort of innovation program we have in place.

People define innovation differently. For us, it is an ongoing commitment to review and change. It is not a single activity, nor is it ‘a project’ it is the way we do business. I learned from Verne Harnish many years ago to ask these simple questions.

  • What should we start doing, STOP doing or keep doing on behalf of our customers?
  • What should we start doing, STOP doing or keep doing on behalf of our people?

This has always driven us – with limited resources we simply had to be clever about the way we do business – and any technology that can support, reduce or eliminate repetitive tasks has always been considered an investment.

It does not matter the size of the organisation – in fact, one could argue that the smaller the business the easier it is to innovate. It’s where big business needs to work out how they can act like a small business. Many large businesses acquire smaller ones just to get the innovation energy that they exude.

This commitment though comes not just from me as CEO – but the entire leadership team. Innovation must be driven from leadership…(I’ve said before as the leadership team goes – so goes the rest of the organisation.)

The STOP doing is just as important as the start doing. It is about focus – it is so easy to be distracted by new conversations, opportunities or ideas. To have a plan is to deliver on the plan. (No point even writing one if you have no intention of sticking to it.) It is one of the reasons why we do trimester plans – rather than annual plans… because great ideas and opportunities can be incorporated into the next trimester’s plan (it’s always only a few months away).  Having trimesters is an innovation in its own right, not doing the same as other organisations just for the sake of it.

We found that quarters were just way too short – by the time you get started, the quarter is nearly over (also people didn’t really want to do a plan in December ready for January).

Some would say that ‘Innovation occurs when someone uses an invention or an idea to change how the world works, how people organise themselves, or how they conduct their lives.’ In this view, innovation occurs whether or not the act of innovating succeeds in generating value for its champions. For us, innovation must have a commercial return. It about creativity and risk taking creating a significant commercial benefit.

Nine Steps to check if you are innovating:

  1. Permission from leadership – Are key decision makers & influencers promoting continuous improvement?
  2. Is there dedicated time to do it?
  3. For larger organisation particularly – Are there champions to act as continuous improvement & innovation motivators?
  4. Is there education to inspire people to think creatively (ie different inputs – not just technical job training)?
  5. Is there a process for capturing ideas?
  6. Are people involved in the process rewarded and recognised for their role in the program?
  7. How are the ideas assessed and prioritised?
  8. Have you created work plans, developed solutions, tested implementations and are you continuously reviewing?
  9. Have you promoted more continuous improvement and how have you communicated it?

You can have the greatest idea on the planet, however, it is the action, process and implementation which drives the success of all innovation. Ideas alone have no commercial value. Oh I must tell you sometimes about some of the innovations that have not worked. Like the online raffle system to support not for profit fund raising that I spent 18 months developing in 2002-3 that was way before it’s time.

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