Five tips to be more innovative and resilient in business
Businesses that are both innovative and resilient give themselves the best chance to survive and thrive through market cycles and challenging business conditions.
Martie-Louise Verreynne, Associate Professor of Innovation, UQ Business School
Resilient firms can anticipate change, solve problems and improvise. They are also connected, adaptive and proactive. These businesses respond to and recover from adverse events by restoring or improving the firm and its structures and functions.
Innovative firms are able to develop and implement new ideas, adding value to the organisation and often the community and the economy in the process. Their main characteristics are an ability to be proactive and a willingness to take risks.
Importantly, these characteristics are not mutually exclusive. Rather, the most resilient and innovative firms share many of the same qualities. Here are five tips for businesses at various stages of maturity to help them become more inventive and robust.
1. Build the right culture from the start
Newer firms have an advantage when it comes to developing a culture that is both innovative and resilient. Indeed, early on is the very best time to embed these crucial traits in a firm’s culture.
It’s important to get this right upfront, to make sure the company doesn’t lose its innovative and resilient mindset as it grows, and becomes too focused on day-to-day operations.
The other factors that can help a business develop an innovative and resilient culture from the outset is locking in the best practice approach from the leadership team, and creating the right culture around staff recruiting, retention, rewards and training.
2. Make sure the business has adequate ‘slack’
Firms that display innovative and resilient characteristics are often those that devote time and resources to these attributes. So rather than structuring the business so that all resources are dedicated to business-as-usual activities, the idea is to leave adequate slack for staff to innovate.
Moreover, firms that are able to deal with adversity tend to have resource slack. This is more than simply having money in the bank, it also means ensuring staff have extra time to work on innovative ideas, or even employing staff whose remit is to be innovative.
Staff are unlikely to innovate if they are not given the encouragement - and the space - to do so. Successful businesses like 3M, Apple and Atlassian give staff time every week to work on innovative ideas. So slack should be built into the fabric of a business for it to achieve real success.
3. Mature businesses need to plan to be innovative and resilient
Businesses are not innovative and resilient by accident: the firms that display high levels of these qualities plan to be that way. While it’s relatively easy for newer firms to embed these aspects into operations, it’s more challenging for more established businesses to adopt these properties if they have not always acted this way. But it’s not impossible and the best way to develop an innovative and resilient outlook for companies that have been in business for some time is to step back and introduce practices that encourage this mindset.
Rewarding or giving staff that come up with innovations equity in the business are two ways small businesses can encourage new ideas. Larger businesses can institute more formal programs to encourage staff to pitch new business ideas and allocate funds to developing these ideas.
4. Co-create products with customers
The most innovative and resilient businesses stay in close contact with their customers, to ensure their innovations meet a market need.
The aim is to understand what customers want and take innovations to them to get their feedback on how they would use it or improve it. The risk is if a business introduces an innovation without testing it, the customer may not want it, which could adversely impact the organisation down the track.
5. See threats as opportunities
It can be challenging for businesses that are under threat to be innovative and resilient, especially if the organisation has never demonstrated these traits in the past.
Organisations that are in this situation need to respond to the threat first, before trying to be innovative. However, businesses in this situation are out of their comfort zone anyway, which is a good climate to be more innovative and resilient.
After responding to the threat, there’s an opportunity to introduce incremental innovations into the business, or launch new products that are easy and quick to bring to market. Taking this approach will help the firm to become more innovation-fit, which can help it to be more innovative and resilient down the track.
All businesses have an opportunity to improve the way they innovate. The idea is to build processes into operations to support these characteristics, and help the business be more successful over time.