People drive innovation, not tech

Brands must encourage every employee to strengthen their innovation muscles.
13 December 2019

Invest in people first, then technology. Source: Steven Zwerink/Flickr

Back in 2011, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen famously wrote an article explaining why software is eating the world.

As Internet 2.0 began to take shape, the author provided a vision of a new digital world where businesses must start building strong cultures that would delight their customers and help them unlock competitive advantages.

Predictions that every business would become a software company were met with cynicism.

Nearly a decade later and the struggle to keep up with the pace of technological change is very real. But there is also an increasing acceptance that it won’t move this slow ever again as we race along a virtual road to Web 3.0.

Businesses of all sizes now recognize that to compete in an always-online world, they will need to work much faster than they are now. But if we have learned one thing from Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, it’s that his mantra of ‘move fast and break things’ is not necessarily the answer either.

The drive for innovation

When surrounded by so many emerging tech trends and buzzwords, it’s easy to become distracted by unplanned side missions. But, the business case to drive innovation from within your organization to drive growth and avoid becoming irrelevant can no longer be ignored in a world where businesses must innovate or die.

As the experience economy gathers pace, delivering solutions to real-world problems while exceeding the rising expectations of your customers has become paramount.

AI, machine learning, 5G, blockchainmixed reality, and IoT might be essential tools for you to leverage on your mission. But it’s innovation and a sense of purpose that will help your company thrive and survive.

If we step back from our obsession with all things tech for just a few moments, it’s people that are driving innovation and holding the antidote to your biggest fears. But for some reason, it is difficult to name any examples of brands that encourage every employee to strengthen its innovation muscles and empower them to innovate throughout the year.

“No company in the future will be in a position to succeed if it squanders the imagination of its employees.” – Professor Gary Hamel, co-founder of the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX)

After decades of rigid leadership and analysis paralysis, maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised that many employees are afraid to put their ideas forward. Innovation has always been about people, rather than technology. But somewhere along the way, we trained people to reign in their curiosity and follow pre-defined processes.

What if we created a new corporate culture where leaders listened to the potential innovators within an organization and spent less time on defining the buzzword itself?

When you combine curiosity and diversity of thought with technology, you can begin solving problems now with an innovation drive, rather than sitting around waiting for the inevitable to happen.

Where should technology innovation happen? Innovation is not as simple as creating the perfect brainstorming location with multi-coloured bean bags, ping pong tables and instructing your employees to be more creative and innovative. Driving innovation is not about adding more clichés into the mix but ensuring that it happens with everyone.

It’s often said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. We need to remember that nobody is too big to fail. Despite having the luxury of a 90 percent market share, a failure to innovate and adapt to the digital landscape resulted in Kodak filing for bankruptcy.

Equally, Google Glass taught us that rushing in to be an early adopter of new tech without any real purpose can be a disaster too.

Don’t be tempted to take shortcuts and end up foolishly chasing disruptive innovations hoping to get lucky or find a quick fix to complex problems. Embedding a culture of continuous innovation driven by your people will deliver better long-term results.

Sure, machines and algorithms are currently dominating conversations in the workplace. But we should never lose sight of the fact that human creativity is the final piece of the jigsaw that will bring digital transformation strategies and dreams of being an innovative company to life.

Technology should help enhance the skills of your human employees rather than replace them in a short-sighted cost-cutting exercise. Businesses that foster a culture of innovation will be able to leverage the best technical and emotional skills to genuinely connect with audiences.

Ultimately, innovation is a journey, not a destination— employees and emerging technologies on their own will only take you so far.

But together, you can unlock both a cultural and tech transformation that will help your business navigate safely through the uncharted digital waters ahead.