Define Your Strategic Vision and Innovation Comes Naturally
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
If your innovation efforts have been lacklustre, producing unexciting and often irrelevant ideas that are seldom implemented anyway, then I suggest you stop focusing on innovation and start focusing on your organisation's strategic vision instead.
If your strategic vision is unclear, your first step should be to formulate a crystal clear and compelling one. Then, communicate that vision across the organisation, to customers, to potential customers and to stakeholders. Innovation will soon follow naturally. But, it won't be perceived as innovation so much as working towards your strategic vision.
One of the curious things about the companies that are recognised as being super innovative is that they do not get worked up about innovation. Companies like Apple, Tesla and Amazon do not use the word "innovation" much, if at all, in corporate literature. To the best of my knowledge, they do not employ people with the official title of "innovation manager". And they do not hire people like me to help them with their innovation. These companies are not concerned about innovation. They are focused on the strategic visions − often as laid down by visionary founders − and see innovation as a mere tool that helps them move towards that vision. Moreover, they communicate that vision across the workforce, to their customers and to their business partners.
It may seem ironic that companies not stressing innovation are the most successful in innovation. But, if you think about it, it makes sense. Consider: if the ideas being generated in an organisation are all over the place, that is because people do not understand what kind of ideas are needed. However, if employees understand their organisation's strategic vision and the need for ideas to work towards that vision, they will focus on developing relevant ideas and rejecting irrelevant ones.
Likewise, if middle managers and approval committees understand their firm's strategic vision, they can review ideas based on that vision. And, they are more likely to approve potentially risky ideas if those ideas are strongly aligned with the vision. After all, rejecting such ideas may hinder progress towards the vision.
What Is Your Strategic Vision?
So, what is your strategic vision? If you are not sure or it is meaningless, then you need to work on the vision before you can work on innovating your way towards the vision. Having an unclear, boring or overly generic strategic vision is a commonplace problem. Large companies often branch out into so many different activities, it is hard to define a strategic vision that covers all of an organisation's operations. Small companies, even one person businesses, often offer too wide of a range of services in order not to miss out on any opportunities. As a result, these companies tend to lack any real strategic vision and they struggle to innovate because no one knows where the company is going or should be going.
Let's look at a small business example.
Joan gets certified in web site design and offers her services as a professional. She boasts that she can do any kind of web site for any organisation. So, what is her strategic vision? Is it that she does great web sites at reasonable prices? If so, she shares a strategic vision with at least a million other certified web designers around the world. Moreover, it is hardly clear how she might properly innovate her services. She could strive to make even greater web sites − but that's probably what others are doing. And what is a 'great' web site anyway?
Sylvia gets the same certification as Joan, but decides to specialise and focus her work. A musician herself, she specialises in doing web sites for jazz musicians. She knows them, knows their needs and talks their language. She may miss out on doing a web site for the local supermarket, but jazz musicians know they can count on her to do effective web sites and she keeps busy. In addition to doing web sites for her clients, she pays attention to what is happening in the world of jazz and she is always thinking about how she can improve her services to meet the needs of jazz musicians. She also looks beyond jazz and web design. For example, when she sees a demo of a webcasting tool, she wonders if it could be used for live, on-line jazz performances involving musicians in different locations.
Indeed, Sylvia does not even see what she does as being innovative. She sees it as providing her jazz musician clients and friends with on-line presences the demonstrates their real world musical skills and she provides them with opportunities to promote and sell their music. She knows she needs to keep moving to maintain her edge as well as her reputation. She understands that technology is changing and that the music industry has been profoundly affected by these changes. So, she keeps working at getting better. In other words, she innovates.
Large companies make the same mistake, often boasting strategic visions such as "offering the best products at the best prices" or some other meaningless drivel. How do you truly innovate to make better products at better prices? Indeed, "best" is a meaningless word that should never, ever be used in your innovation initiative.
On the other hand, "manufacturing the most environmentally friendly products possible", is an explicit vision that could even be used by a manufacturer that produces a diverse range of products. Such a vision also provides a clear pathway for innovation. Ideas that lead to greater environmental friendliness are worth developing, even if it is not entirely clear they will succeed. Ideas that do not align with vision are probably not so interesting.
Large organisations that sell a diversity of products probably need an umbrella vision for the entire company and more focused visions for business units, though the business unit strategic visions must align with the umbrella vision.
Defining Your Strategic Vision
If your company has no real strategic vision or suffers with a generic one, you need to define a focused strategic vision that is uniquely yours. That means looking at what your company is doing and determining what you want it to be doing. It probably means communicating with customers and business partners in order to understand how your company is perceived by them. You may discover that your customers have a very different idea of your company's vision than you do.
Once the vision is defined, change is almost inevitable. If your vision is to produce environmentally friendly products, you will need to do something about products that fail to fall in line with your vision. But that's okay. Once your vision is clear, innovation will start to come naturally. Indeed, you will soon find yourself talking less about innovation and more about your vision. Nevertheless, you will be innovating better than you ever have before.
Need help in defining, redefining and/or communicating your strategic vision? I can help. Learn more here or get in touch with me right now. A clear, unique and well communicated strategic vision is critical not only to innovation, but to business success.
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