The speed of disruptive change has increased across all industries and as a result, the ability to innovate is rightly seen as a critical skill for both small and large companies.
Many businesses are now starting to create innovation programmes, accelerators, product labs, incubators, investment funds and employee engagement projects. However, the results of these projects in practice are mixed.
Read more: Digital Innovators Power List
As technology lawyers, we often get involved in client projects where technology is being used to disrupt an established industry sector. However, this is particularly difficult for established companies that are already successful, have mature markets and have long-standing customer relationships. They face a dilemma of when to transition from successful but ageing products to new technology and how to overcome the internal resistance to change.
This is not a new challenge but what has changed is the rate, volume and force of disruption businesses across all industries are facing. There are a huge number of disruptive trends that businesses are being forced to consider. Although many of these seem to be about technology change, in reality, they are also changing business models and people's jobs. The sharing economy, cloud platforms, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence all change the way in which businesses control their activities and engage with their customers.
So how do businesses achieve better innovation, more quickly and at scale?
Some businesses have already successfully put in place structures and processes to enable repeatable and sustainable innovation. This comes from starting with a clear vision of what the programme is intended to achieve. This might be about improving existing operations, finding growth opportunities or staying ahead of the competition and this should shape the type of programme that is adopted.
One common approach to successfully embracing disruptive technology and innovation is to address a genuine problem – large or small – that is causing issues for an organisation or its customers. This means that the programme is looking for solutions and not just adopting new technology without a real purpose.
A second key factor is to understand how new products will transition away from the innovation programme and become a core part of the business. This involves keeping key stakeholders engaged in the programme and acknowledging the governance processes that will be involved. The organisational dogmas that stand in the way of innovation should be challenged but they cannot be ignored.
The most successful innovation initiatives are properly resourced with dedicated leads, well-integrated within the organisation's business and strategy, and involve people who are open to trying new ways of doing things. The challenges that can arise are wide-ranging and include lack of clear objectives, insufficient numbers of ideas being considered, failure to establish a route to scale good ideas and a head-in-the-sand approach to risks that need to be addressed. Finding new ways of working is a journey which will transport your business from where you are today and provide tangible opportunities for the future.
Barry Jennings is a legal director and Tessa Charlton an associate at international law firm Bird & Bird.