You’ll get little disagreement from anyone in business that innovation is a vital element to success. One has to merely look at the pace of technology to understand the importance of staying on the forefront in a world of constant change. However, when it comes to nurturing innovative ideas and putting them into motion in your organization, what’s needed to make that happen isn’t always so clear.
Possibilities met with Ross Manson, chief innovation officer at Eide Bailly, for a Q&A on how businesses can integrate innovative thinking into their processes.
POSSIBILITIES: Let’s start simple (or maybe not). How would you define “innovation” in the current business landscape?
Ross: If you Google “innovation,” you’re probably going to get a million different answers of what it means for businesses. What we’re talking about really is remaining relevant as a business. So many industries and sectors are being disrupted by technology. Being innovative comes down to staying relevant as the dynamics of consumerism are changing.
POSSIBILITIES: It’s often said in business and other professions that ideas are cheap, and execution is everything. Is innovation more about the process than the idea, or is it a bit of both?
Ross: Both play their role. You need the ideas first, and to do that you need to create a culture of idea generation throughout your organization. That means not just relying on senior management; you want to free your staff up to offer the creativity only they can bring. But after that, the question becomes how do you do it? For that, you need to look deep into what it is you offer, whether it’s a product or a consumer experience, and take the steps necessary to enact change.
POSSIBILITIES: What are steps businesses can take to encourage innovative ideas in their organizations?
Ross: Opening up avenues of communication is one way to start. At Eide Bailly, we created Idea Hub, an online forum that allows people to share their ideas and for staff to either “thumbs up” or an innovation council. A key to all these efforts is diversity of thought. You need different people and different perspectives. In addition, you need to look outside your organization as well.
What are your competitors doing? What are your customers asking for? It’s easy to get caught up in what you are doing well today, but you need to have eyes on the horizon. Even something as simple as changing up your information sources— looking at a new magazine or website—can reshape your mind in a helpful way.
POSSIBILITIES: What kinds of technology do you think will be the most impactful or disruptive to how businesses work?
Ross: Artificial intelligence and machine learning has grown tremendously in the last couple years. It’s maybe not as ready to reshape the world as some in the tech center might lead you to believe, but the speed at which it’s improving is real, and it we will be talking more and more about it. Voice recognition and its related technology—Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, for example—is another area that has grown incredibly in the last few years. I don’t think we’re too far away from having voice assistants at our desks who can answer questions and provide information faster than we can find with a mouse and keyboard.