By Ana Andjelic
But labs wither away, innovation officers leave and consultants’ recommendations are eventually dismissed.
Most of the time, the definition is lacking. According to dictionaries, innovation is “the action or process of innovating” (thanks). The executive mandates are still not clear. The role descriptions are vague. The process and the practice are isolated. Too often, the corporate approach to innovation focuses simplistically on advances in technology—at the expense of developing the organization, business and society required for anything new to be implemented, monetized and adopted.
A more comprehensive approach to innovation would ask companies to: a) define the role of a particular innovation, initiative or practice in driving the business and brand forward (strategy); b) explore how to use it to convey the brand message and deliver a great experience (creative); and c) to define the plan, processes and methodologies needed to implement it successfully (operations).
Climate change and pressures for transparency are putting innovation in materials at the core of any conversation about sourcing, production, packaging and recycling of materials across industries. Once-futuristic-sounding things like spider silk, bacterial ink or lab-grown diamonds are today’s competitive advantage. Luxury fashion brand Stella McCartney invested in making new clothes by liquifying old ones, and successfully navigated consecutive partnerships with the two biggest competing luxury conglomerates. In the meantime, just having a database of material-science startups and academic programs can help in grasping the horizon of possibility.
Streaming wars are probably the headline of 2019. At the media-buying level, most innovations promptly got entangled with the legitimate concerns of consumer privacy and brand safety. AI, AR/VR, and voice interfaces are exciting new domains, but the real media innovation challenge is in the customer-centrism and personalization, and resides among resolutely un-sexy topics like CRM, customer service, e-commerce platform management and having a single customer database.
Where, how and what we buy is constantly changing. A scenario where we order a dress that an influencer wore from Amazon Alexa can quickly be made obsolete by buying that same dress, directly on Instagram, from an influencer herself. While a lot of companies still grapple with making e-commerce and mobile commerce work in their favor, Chinese super-apps are already onto social commerce as their latest revenue stream. With their ad models under regulatory attack, the US platforms have been quick to follow. In commerce, the biggest innovation challenge is to figure out how to keep opening up new revenue streams while keeping in focus a single customer point of view.
There’s an entire field of study dedicated to the question of innovative organizations, spanning sociology, management, design, behavioral economics and psychology. The success of an innovation depends on whether or not a company is organized to develop it; at the same time, the type of innovation a company chooses to focus on shapes the organization around it. The problem is wicked, and solving it starts with understanding that organizational innovation starts with people, teams, space, knowledge sharing and projects—and not with an innovation figurehead.
Ana Andjelic is a Strategy Executive and Doctor of Sociology who specializes in the modern luxury brands. This opinion piece is published in collaboration with Adage.com