Is innovation doing what you need? If not, here are four tips to help you succeed

Every brand and organisation wants to build its innovation capability – and marketing is often the department that leads the charge.

However, company culture is the key enabler. If it isn’t conducive to rapid decision-making, flair, rewarding risk-taking and encouraging people to explore, then it’s hard to be innovative. A few have transient "SWAT teams" that are ring-fenced for a period of time to think chaotically. Others bring in consultants to challenge thinking "outside-in", while some have dedicated innovation teams.

Every organisation must make choices about what is important, what it will reward and how to allow those activities to flourish. If it’s out of touch with its customers’ experiences, how can it change?

Big issues abound when it comes to innovation strategy: the growth of big data, which can both overwhelm and illuminate, the way in which digital has socialised the innovation process, the challenges of managing diffuse networks and the tensions between free creative thinking and a process-led management structure.

Nonetheless, here are some approaches that can help brands get more out of innovation:

Look for ideas outside your category to shake it up

Look at Gillette (razors and blades), HP (printers and cartridges) and Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi. The latter sells its phones at tiny margins in order to capitalise on the bigger potential revenue stream from software. Its revenues hit $5.2bn in 2013, with users downloading more than 1bn apps.

Make insightful connections between challenges you face and everyday life

Bio-mimicry (the study of nature to inspire solutions to design challenges) can be a key driver of innovation. Consider Ornilux, a glass-sheeting product designed to reduce bird collisions with windows through the inclusion of a special UV-reflective coating. Inspiration came from orb-weaver spiders, which incorporate UV-reflective strands into their webs to warn birds away.

Consider crowd-selecting, as well as crowdsourcing, ideas

A fan-made prototype kit that appears on crowdsourcing network Lego Ideas needs 10,000 people to support it. Lego will then review it for manufacture and, if the kit goes into production, the person who had the idea receives 1% of future net sales in payment. In essence, Lego is handing over some control for the customer experience to the people most devoted to its brand.

Don’t wait until you have the "perfect solution" before testing your idea

Akin to crowdsourcing, a co-creative and iterative approach to prototyping and commercialisation can help leading innovators succeed. 3D printing is showing us what it is now possible.

Invest time early with stakeholders beyond the user

Engaging with partners and stakeholders enables innovators to truly understand value-creation from their perspective, securing vital support. This is particularly acute for pharmaceutical companies, which often come under intense scrutiny from physicians and insurers.

Ensure you’ve pinpointed the repeatable model so that you can roll it out quickly. Keep close to the customer experience to remain on track.

Once the innovation is launched, the hard work is often just beginning. The "test and learn" approach to diffusion or rolling out innovation demands agility and customer connectivity. Be prepared to commit to it and scale it if it works, or cut your losses if it doesn’t.

Take time to design an innovation culture that is reinforced by leadership and enables people to deliver their very best.

Culture is king. Innovation is unpredictable and chaotic, but organisational resources need to be planned and structured; the right culture will reflect both to enable innovation to thrive.

Originally published in Marketing Magazine's Masterclass column.

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