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Innovation in business: Importance, benefits, & examples

For companies willing to embrace innovation during uncertain times, the rewards can be transformative, both during a crisis and in its aftermath.

In this article, we demystify the concept of business innovation, offering actionable steps and tangible examples to help ignite a culture of innovation within your organization. We delve into the many benefits of embracing business innovation and draw inspiration from real-world examples where innovation has been a game changer.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur kickstarting your business, a small business owner seeking growth, or a business leader in a larger corporation eyeing enhanced competitiveness, we believe this guide will provide valuable insights. The aim? To help you shape a robust innovation strategy that can propel your business to new heights in any environment.

  1. What is the definition of innovation?
  2. What benefits does business innovation bring for you?
  3. What are the different types of innovation?
  4. Real-world examples of successful innovation
  5. 10 tips for business innovation
  6. How to drive strategic innovation with IMD?

What is the definition of innovation?

In short, innovation is doing something different to create value. Business innovation refers to the process of introducing new ideas, methods, products, or services that result in significant improvements or advancements within an organization. 

Innovation often involves transforming creative ideas into new solutions that drive business growth, improve efficiency, and meet customers’ changing needs while improving decision-making and problem-solving across the organization. 

Think about Tesla’s commitment to putting the first electric vehicle on the road in 2008, or Google’s introduction of a search engine in 1998. Each innovation was unheard of at the time and represented a major paradigm shift. 

Even if modern businesses don’t innovate at this same level, innovation is still crucial in today’s world. Not only does it offer the potential for increased profit, but it can also create new jobs and increase customer trust. Your brand may develop better public recognition, and current workers may discover increased efficiency or productivity. 

What benefits does business innovation bring for you?

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, we wanted to give you a better idea of how innovation can impact your organization. A few benefits of innovation for both old and new business models include:

  • Gain a competitive advantage. Innovation can help you develop unique products and services that set you apart from competitors. Over 80% of digitally mature companies cite innovation as one of their core strengths.
  • Meet customer demands. Sixty-five percent of fast-growing companies say they collaborate with their customers on potential innovations. Businesses that try to better understand and respond to customer needs through ongoing innovation do a better job attracting new customers and retaining existing clients.
  • Drive business growth. You’ll position your company to better identify and seize new opportunities. You may also create opportunities to diversify revenue streams or expand into new markets.
  • Increase efficiency and productivity. Innovation can result in increased productivity as you find ways to improve existing processes, streamline operations, and implement new forms of technology. 
  • Better equipped to deal with changes. Rather than reacting to changes that catch you off guard, you’ll be better prepared to identify emerging trends and anticipate shifts in the market in advance. 
  • Attract and retain talent. You can create an environment that engages your workers and results in higher levels of job satisfaction and employee retention. Many top companies give their employees a designated amount of time each week to work on product innovations.
  • Promote resilience and sustainability. Your business will be equipped to navigate economic downturns and changing consumer behavior. 

Even if your innovation doesn’t produce each of these potential effects, even two or three outcomes can provide a boost to your business. As we continue, we’ll discuss different types of innovation and their specific benefits.

What are the different types of innovation?

Not all innovation processes are identical. Innovation can take on different forms, and we dive into a few of the most common examples.

  • Incremental innovation: Incremental innovation involves making small, incremental improvements to existing products, services, or processes. While it may not result in the creation of a new product or fresh concept, it can enhance value creation and produce a positive impact. 
    The shaving company Gillette understands the importance of incremental improvement. While major product overhauls are uncommon, the company is always looking for ways to improve its razors. When the company finds ways to make incremental product improvements that produce slightly better razors, it becomes slightly more profitable at the same time. 
    A great example is when the company switched from the Mach3 razor to the Fusion razor by proposing the new product as a better shaving solution.
  • Radical innovation: Radical innovation usually involves making a major breakthrough or invention that creates a new market or significantly changes an existing market. These innovations are more noticeable and represent a higher-risk, higher-return pursuit. 
    Apple’s decision to bring the iPhone to the market in 2007 is a great example of radical innovation. At the time, the iPhone represented the combination of three unique products: a mobile phone, a touch-screen iPod, and a portable connective device enabling users to access email, web browsing, and navigation while on the go. 
    Fast-forward to today, when over 120 million Americans own an iPhone.
  • Disruptive innovation: Disruptive innovation creates a new market or value network that displaces an existing market or value network. Rather than introducing a new product to serve an existing market, disruptive innovation represents the creation of an entirely new market that disrupts the status quo. 
    Netflix introduced a disruptive innovation when it decided to take its DVD-by-mail business to the next level by providing online streaming. At the time, people received DVDs by mail or picked them up from a local service. 
    Everything changed when Netflix decided to pivot to online streaming. Now, the video streaming market is projected to grow to over $100 billion within the next five years. 
  • Architectural innovation: Architectural innovations make major changes to a product or service’s architecture to attract new markets and consumers. In other words, it repackages an existing product, service, or idea to fill a new need or attract a fresh clientele. 

    Although smartwatches existed in different forms prior to the Apple Watch, September 2014 represented a major development in the industry as Apple brought its first wearable technology to the market. 

    Since its inception, the Apple Watch has surpassed giants like Rolex in the watch industry. The Apple Watch represents an architectural innovation because it incorporates existing smartphone technology into a different form. 

“Innovation is anything, but business as usual.” – Anonymous

Real-world examples of successful innovation

We’ve discussed a few examples of successful innovation in the business world, but here are a few more noteworthy examples of innovation:

  • WhatsApp: Expensive SMS services once dominated electronic communication. WhatsApp changed the game by introducing a secure messaging platform for anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection. This is a great example of radical innovation.
  • Gavi: Exists to save children’s lives through broader access to essential immunizations. By targeting product innovations and a single improved framework, Gavi drove its incremental innovation efforts forward and achieved a deeper level of impact. 
  • Mercedes-Benz: Made the decision to prioritize digital product development in its manufacturing efforts. The incremental innovation resulted in a significantly shorter innovation cycle and a rise in the company’s overall efficiency rate.
  • Discovery Group: This international insurance company made the decision to offer incentives to company leaders. The organization used a semiannual divisional scorecard to incorporate multiple forms of innovation into its culture and heartbeat and mobilize the entire company around the same goal.
  • Salesforce: came to market in 1999 as an internet customer relationship management (CRM) service. The company foresaw the future by establishing a cloud-based system that could operate at a minimal cost with businesses of all sizes. Salesforce’s radical innovation continues to produce a positive impact to this day.

10 tips for business innovation

You now understand the importance of business innovation, but you may still have questions about how to make innovation a reality within your organization. We offer some tips that can help make your innovation more effective and beneficial.

1. Create a culture of innovation

Businesses should create a culture where employees feel empowered to share ideas, experiment, and take calculated risks. Team leaders should talk openly and regularly about the value of continual improvement. 
It may help to shift conversations about new ideas away from potential roadblocks and financial sacrifices. Instead, innovative conversations should focus on potential possibilities and the impact of innovative ideas on the organization.

2. Understand customer needs

Better understanding your customers’ needs (and desires) can equip you to serve them better and longer. You can best understand customer needs by making a habit of collecting regular feedback, conducting market research, and engaging with customers to uncover insights and identify innovation opportunities. 

Consider crafting a customer needs statement that concisely defines your ideal client’s exact needs.

3. Encourage cross-functional collaboration

Encourage diverse perspectives and interdisciplinary collaboration to promote fresh ideas. Take steps to break down silos and create channels for cross-functional knowledge. 

As you do this, establish a centralized communication method or standard and encourage regular dialogue so all team members are on the same page.

4. Allocate resources for innovation

In addition to money, time is a great resource to invest. Along with research and development budgets, set a predetermined amount of time for employees to pursue new ideas and methodologies. You must also decide which tools and technologies are necessary for your team to reach the next level. 

5. Embrace continuous learning

Employees who continue to grow and stretch are better positioned to contribute to the company’s ongoing innovation and development. Provide opportunities for employees to gain new skills, attend training programs, and participate in workshops or conferences. 

Encourage employees to stay updated on industry trends and best practices. Consider setting aside time to ask employees what they’re learning and how it might benefit the organization as a whole. 

6. Promote risk-taking and accept failure

Innovation often doesn’t happen without risk. Major innovations like the iPhone and Netflix’s streaming service could have easily failed, but these organizations didn’t let the potential danger keep them from moving forward. 

Foster an environment where employees feel safe to take risks without the fear of harsh consequences. Celebrate successes and failures, and consider what you can learn from each event. 

7. Seek external perspectives

If you never take time to listen to outside voices and perspectives, you’ll miss out on a wealth of helpful information. Collaborate with external stakeholders, industry experts, consultants, or startups to gain new perspectives. 

Explore partnerships, joint ventures, or acquisitions. Adopt a humble posture in conversations, and be willing to challenge your preexisting beliefs. 

8. Set clear innovation goals

Align goals and objectives with the overall business strategy and communicate them throughout the organization. Consider using the SMART goal framework to create measurable and actionable goals. 

Another best practice is to choose key performance indicators (KPIs) or specific metrics that reflect the type of progress you hope to make. 

9. Encourage idea generation and evaluation

If you want your employees to develop new ideas, give them the time and space necessary to cultivate new thoughts. Promote idea generation by holding brainstorming sessions, innovation workshops, or suggestion boxes. 

Have a platform for employees to submit and collaborate on ideas, and ensure each team member feels comfortable and safe when it’s time to share their perspectives or thoughts. 

10. Celebrate and recognize innovation

Reward innovative achievements, highlight the individuals and teams behind them, and showcase their impact on the organization. This will encourage future collaboration and participation among your team and allow your organization to mark progress and reflect on the company’s growth and development.

How to drive strategic innovation with IMD?

Innovation in business can sometimes feel like a complex puzzle, but when the pieces fall into place, it can propel your company to new heights. It helps redefine your product and service value, strengthen customer relationships, and create a distinctive space for you in the market.

The benefits of innovation extend to all business models, enabling companies to stand out with unique offerings. By understanding customer needs and fostering a culture of continuous innovation, companies can attract new customers and deepen relationships with existing ones. Innovation, in turn, drives growth by opening new opportunities and diversifying revenue streams.

In today’s dynamic and competitive business landscape, embracing innovation is not just an option, but a necessity.

If you’re looking to further embrace innovation, IMD’s innovation programs are here to guide you. Our programs are tailored to strengthen your leadership skills, enhance your ability to innovate strategically, and provide you with practical knowledge to drive successful innovation.

With IMD, you get more than just access to world-class faculty and personal coaching. We believe in real-world learning, ensuring that all of our participants can apply their newly acquired knowledge from day one. We are here to give you the tools you need to lead your business into an innovative future.