Businesses must bridge the growing gap between innovation and execution if they want to thrive

 
Feng Li
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Innovation should be treated as a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it gets (Source: Getty)

Many business leaders underestimate the scale and speed of the digital disruption that is bearing down on them.

Innovation is on everyone’s agenda, and although most don’t have issues developing strategies, or generating new ideas, they often fail in their execution.

How companies adapt to new technologies, and embrace different ideas at pace, is key to their survival. How to achieve this is the foundation for a report I recently authored with VMware, examining how to bridge the emerging innovation-execution gap in an increasingly digital landscape.

Read more: AI and experiments – let’s make 2018 Britain’s year of innovation

I have four pieces of advice for businesses looking to transform at speed.

Innovate by experimenting

Traditionally, businesses maintain a linear relationship between innovation and execution, with expected outcomes defined at the beginning. However, with the path of a business becoming trickier to predict, it’s almost impossible to establish what will and won’t be successful.

Companies need to be able to green-light an idea quickly, adjusting their strategy as problems arise. VMware’s EMEA chief technology officer Joe Baguley says: “We must have a solid framework that allows agility, founded in the culture, the methodology and technology of an organisation.”

Firms need to ensure that strategy creation and execution are linked, based on monitoring, regular redefinition of path and destination, and frequent course corrections. Failure to do this can mean that ideas become obsolete before they’re implemented.

Don’t focus on new ideas

Many organisations invest huge time and effort unearthing new business models in order to allow digital technologies to better underpin strategic change and innovation. But these are rarely based on unprecedented ideas. With new technologies expanding the boundaries of what is possible, their potential is often left unrealised.

Instead, businesses should focus on adaptation, scaling from what might already be in place, or simply removing old barriers to change.

Exploring a portfolio of business models is also wise, providing organisations with the ability to hedge their bets across different opportunities.

Support cultural change by using technology

Developing a holistic innovation strategy requires more than a change in culture. For it to be successful long-term, businesses need to ensure that delivery is quick, and effective.

Senior business leaders must take responsibility to ensure that their digital infrastructure is ready to scale resources at speed across today’s range of devices, applications, and clouds.

Culture translates formal rules into unwritten ones, and it is these unwritten rules that determine behaviours, and guide employees. Any attempt to change culture, without an understanding of the underlying assumptions and repercussions, will fail.

Mind the gap

Many businesses admit they aren’t good at turning new ideas into outcomes. To paraphrase Kevin O’Connor from global information and insight provider IHS Markit, innovation should be treated as a muscle that needs to be exercised; the more you use it, the stronger it gets.

In a world characterised by exponential growth, blurring sector boundaries, and expanding ecosystems, the survival of many businesses depends on their ability to understand change, and respond to it quickly. They must be able to innovate as they go, without having all the answers in place.

Good ideas, in isolation, won’t do this. Being innovative means building and maintaining the capabilities to pursue ideas, at the right time, while regularly revisiting strategic plans.

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