‘Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come’ − Victor Hugo
Innovation and creativity refer to the development of new concepts, innovative ways or new ideas promoting a business success or widespread use, using a questioning or inquisitive mindset, and form part of essential competencies that are crucial for the future success and relevance of many professionals such as accountants, as well as organisations. ‘Many blunder in business through inability or an unwillingness to adopt new ideas. I have seen many a success turn to failure also, because the thought which should be trained on big things is cluttered up with the burdensome detail of little things,’ said Philip S Delaney.
EMBRACING IDEAS, CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION
Everything begins with an idea and as you may agree, ideas are generally not in short supply and some lead to great innovations. A good idea is an important starting point that needs to be carefully considered, natured and managed to derive value. If not appropriately managed, these could result in many missed opportunities and can cause challenges throughout the cause of the innovation (or in its future). The opposite is of course true, where a good idea that is managed well and systematically could see any organisation derive new value and great success.
Organisations and work environments that encourage and promote rather than stifle thinking and innovation, and then manage it properly, are more prone to attracting and retaining talented people and achieving greater prosperity. Advantages to organisations that promote creative thinking and a culture of innovation include fuelling growth, stimulating necessary change, ensuring continuous improvement, increasing the idea pool, increasing diversity that is good for business, bringing unexpected discoveries, ensuring adaptability, growth beyond the box, disruption and keeping up with evolving business models.
INNOVATION GOVERNANCE AND STRATEGY
To be effective, a suitable governance structure and processes need to be in place, including a documented policy, procedures and responsibilities.
Appropriate oversight and direction should ideally be set by those charged with governance and delegated as appropriate. There should also be clarity around the strategic direction set with regard to creativity and innovation for the organisation so that everyone who has or wishes to come up with creative ideas understands what the organisational position is around this. An innovation strategy would provide some form of a plan to embrace innovations that grow market share, profits, performance, or products and services.
Innovation governance is a system of mechanisms to align goals, allocate resources and assign decision-making authority for innovation within the organisation, but also to external parties. The scope of innovation is broad, and often organisations’ innovation focus is limited to certain aspects (such as research and development departments). Even with targeted innovation, the more organisations make the circle of innovation bigger, with appropriate guidance, oversight, and support, the more they will reap the rewards of innovative thinking that people are capable of. This can help to steer and manage innovation in an integrated way, and across all its aspects. An organisation committed to creativity must focus on long-term ROI. Leaders must acknowledge that true innovation does not always return value right away and that people who are allowed the space stand to benefit the organisation greatly in the long term.
There is an argument that implementing a system or process in an effort to manage innovation would inherently stifle innovation. This may not be far from the truth and so anyone, particularly finance professionals looking to take leadership or be involved in an innovation management process, would need to do some soul searching and be cognisant of the nature of this area. One would need to possess sufficient mental flexibility to strike a balance that enables innovation and creativity (rather than stifle it) between their accountancy protocols and the freedom to be creative and innovate. Research shows that the ability to be mentally flexible and adaptable has become critical for employability and relevance.
One key motivation for organisations to manage innovation carefully and better is that missed opportunities could potentially lead to great success (success for either the organisation or the actual idea), but could at times lead to the demise of the organisation. There are many examples of organisations that have failed due to an inability to innovate and some that have turned away great innovative ideas. Some well-known companies are Kodak, Nokia, Blockbuster and BlackBerry, among many others.
According to Forbes, in 2000 Reed Hastings, the founder of a fledgling company called Netflix, proposed a partnership to Blockbuster’s then CEO, John Antioco, and his team. The idea was simple − that Netflix would run Blockbuster’s brand online and Blockbuster would promote Netflix in its stores. Hastings got laughed out of the room, and we all know what happened next. Another reason could be the opportunity to better manage the whole process upfront in a manner that is fair and manage expectations, so no issues come up at a later stage.
MAKING INNOVATION HAPPEN
Chartered accountants occupy various roles in organisations, including99999 providing sound leadership that ensures business success and resilience.
Trusted the world over for ensuring the stability of business and economies and given the changing dynamics of business and business models, accountants are stretching themselves more than ever, advising businesses in unknown worlds and uncharted waters. This can be exciting and challenging at the same time, but someone has to do it.
No two ideas are the same, and the success of an innovative idea may be dependent on various factors. Without the right communication channels, the right processes for making decisions and the right infrastructure for implementing ideas, very few of the ideas that people come up with will see the light of day. Accountancy professionals need to increasingly use their strengths and knowledge, collaborate with and coordinate others to foster new, different and carefully considered business growth − while remaining mindful of any blind spots that may hinder effective innovation. There would likely be many positive lessons for professionals involving themselves with projects of this nature, and one should look to rather than being able to quantify the number of successful ideas typical of finance professionals, be mindful of the potentially significant qualitative benefits that may be derived by the organisation, the talent employed by the organisation, and also external stakeholders from where ideas may be sourced, encouraged or supported.
To make innovation happen, consider whether there is sufficient capability (different abilities and resources) within the organisation or access to such to be able to create and manage innovation. There also needs to be appropriate structures (organisational structure, processes and infrastructure), culture and strategy to enable the effective use of the said capabilities.
While it may be a little awkward at first when you start asking around the office regarding creativity and innovation, keep your eye on the ball – focus. Take time to understand what is already in place at your organisation and determine what (if anything) may need to be done to close any gaps around creative thinking and innovation. Also determine how you can make a positive contribution to what already exists. Perhaps you want to look at good ideas but do not have a department or specific person(s) responsible for reviewing submissions and making decisions. It may take some convincing (both yourself and others) for you to get involved with innovation at your organisation (after all, it is not something we are well known for). Come up with a plan or proposal, conceptualise your thinking and use your leadership skills to influence progression towards your aspirations.
If negotiations and engagements are positive, an innovation strategy and governance structure would be needed. Be as flexible as possible while providing the responsible leadership and advice organisations expect from you. Once a strategy is in place, create innovation management processes suitable for your organisation. This may need to be piloted and improved for some time. Of course, the innovation process is not cast in stone and should be adapted to suit the environment and type(s) of innovations relevant to the organisation.
The Innovation diagram is an illustrative example of what the process could look like.
Organisations may have great ideas, but only those with a strategy and effective leadership can turn those concepts into growth and success. Rather than accepting and expecting incremental gains, connect to the bigger picture and maintain a comprehensive outlook on the potential benefits being derived, including a unique competitive advantage and people who are constantly working to do better. Remain flexible in approach, be open-minded and look beyond the obvious.
The framework provided here should be considered as a possible starting point for innovation conversations and a culture that encourages innovative thinking, solutions and new growth paths. A true culture of innovation encourages everyone to contribute ideas and can give them a new leash of commitment to the organisation. This has the potential to benefit the organisation as a whole.
Msizi Gwala CA(SA), MAcc, Project Director: Enabling Competencies