Demystifying Innovation

In the fast-paced world of business, companies of all sizes and in every industry are constantly seeking ways to stay one step ahead of their competition, and many view innovation as the solution. However, there is often a lack of clarity regarding what it means to be innovative and how to foster this within an organisation.


SPRINGnews recently caught up with Singapore-based Mr Scott Anthony, Managing Partner of Innosight, a boutique consulting and investment firm based in the United States that focuses on strategic transformation, disruptive change and business model innovation, to shed some light on these issues.

As a consultant, speaker and author of several books on innovation - including the just-released "The First Mile: A Launch Manual for Getting Great Ideas into the Market" - Mr Anthony has built up a deep understanding of this hot topic, which he shares. 

SPRINGnews (SN): How do you define innovation?

Scott Anthony (SA) : I define innovation as something different that creates value. Each of those words is chosen carefully. ‘Something’ is intentionally broad. Too frequently, people assume that innovation is all about new technologies, and something done only by research scientists. But innovation comes in many forms, such as a new marketing approach, a new way to provide customer service, or even a new internal process.

The word ‘different’ reminds us that sometimes the best way to innovate is to make things radically simpler, cheaper, or more accessible. Finally ‘creating value’ differentiates innovation from precursors such as invention or creativity. Those are good, but until you have turned that input into new revenues, profits, improved customer satisfaction and so on, you have not innovated.

SN: Why is innovation in companies so important?

SA: The pace of change in today’s world demands that companies come to grips with innovation. Companies go from market leaders to afterthoughts in the blink of an idea. Innovation is changing how we work, play, live and communicate. In my mind it is the most important issue for leaders today to grapple with.

SN: What are some of the common drivers or facilitators of innovation within a company?

SA: The number one thing I would point to is market intimacy. Companies that are good at innovation invest the time to really understand current and prospective customers. Ideally, they know those customers better than they know themselves. High degrees of intimacy help the would-be innovator understand what customers want and need, even if they can’t articulate it themselves.

SN: How are innovation, risk and failure related?

SA: Any time you innovate, two good things can happen. You can achieve commercial success, or you can learn something that sets you up for future commercial success. When you look at the world that way, the only failure is to spend too long or too much money figuring out which category you are in.

SN: Is innovation universal or does it differ across cultural or geographic boundaries? If the latter, what is unique about innovation in Singapore?

SA: It is hard to generalise across such a diverse place as Singapore, but in my experience organisations here are generally more hierarchical than those with which I have worked in the United States or Europe. Further, they tend to be less tolerant of failure. This means Singaporean leaders have to be actively involved to help their staff understand that they are truly dedicated to thinking and acting differently. The dramatic explosion in the entrepreneurial ecosystem is really helping with this, in my view.

Reproduced with permission from SPRINGnews May 2014 Issue. Published by SPRING Singapore.

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