Beyond Innovation – it’s Innovation velocity that really matters…

‘5 Ways to Drive Innovation’…’The World’s Most Innovative Leaders’….’The Latest Innovations in Fintech’…sound familiar?

In mainstream media, and in the corporate lexicon, the word innovation has become ubiquitous – particularly when discussing entrepreneurship, technology, leadership, and how all three combine. As a result, it has all but lost its meaning.

Among startups, for example, product differentiators are often peddled as ‘innovations’ – when in fact they are simply, product differentiators. Journalists often trumpet the release of a high profile company’s latest ‘innovation’, when in fact it is simply the release of a new product (and should be reported as such!).

Why is this important?

Because while word usage may appear to be trivial, I believe that the way an entrepreneur or company ‘internalises’ innovation naturally translates into how they approach innovation. If innovation is merely understood to be something new, as opposed to something deeper that is – through deliberate strategies – embedded into the culture, then a startup will simply be pursuing ‘innovation’ for innovation’s sake.

This is why entrepreneurs should be focused on instilling innovation velocity.

Velocity implies the powerful combination of speed and direction. And while we all know – in today’s fast and disruptive environment – that speed and time to market is critical, many entrepreneurs pay little to no attention to direction. So while they are intent on creating new and ‘innovative’ products or services, they fail to consider whether their product differentiators are truly aligned with the company’s vision and long-term trajectory. Despite the fact that innovation is happening at a rate of knots (in keeping with the market’s pace), much of this energy and output is ultimately wasted – because the resulting products or services are not aligned with the company’s core mission.

Take Apple Inc. after Steve Jobs’ initial ouster, for instance. The tech company was preoccupied with a whole host of ‘innovations’ and pet projects – very few of which were aligned to any singular focus or direction at Apple. However, when Jobs returned and re-assumed a leadership role, he shut down almost all of these projects and rallied the organisation behind a clearly defined and singular purpose. He essentially took hold of the innovative intentions, paired them with velocity, and the rest is some pretty impressive history!

So how does one embed innovation velocity into a business and its processes?

To start with, identify the various business challenges or tasks and how long they take to accomplish. For example, product launches, fundraising, product testing – how long does it take to complete each of these critical elements? Once you have established this, consider how you can get better at each element – and shorten the time it takes. So if product testing takes six months, how can you shorten it to three months, and eventually one month?

This will require implementing certain processes, and by implementing these processes, you are allowing the business to focus on its core mission – while also speeding up key elements. We call this the creation of a constantly improving tool chain – and whether you apply it to team performance, product launches, or company finances – this improving tool chain lays the foundation for a truly innovative culture (and truly innovative outputs!).

Another strategy to ensure that maximum velocity is being achieved is to periodically reflect on the direction the business is traveling in – are you sticking to your original plan and vision? Have you pivoted, and if so, was this pivot successful? By constantly checking in, you can keep the business both lean and focused.

In short, instead of blindly pursuing innovation – at a furious pace – first ensure that your projects are closely aligned with a singular, core purpose…and then embed smart processes that enable you to achieve that all important innovation velocity.

First published online via Entrepreneur magazine South Africa

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