Successful innovation by businesses in South Africa is key if the triple challenges of low growth, high unemployment and poor international competitiveness are going to be beaten. This is the view of Dimitri Markoulides, a senior consultant and Innovation Practice Lead with international management consulting firm BMGI.
‘Businesses need to be successful innovators if they hope to grow and compete nationally and internationally,’ he says. ‘But most businesses know that. It’s not a new concept. There are two problems, however: the first is formalizing an innovation growth strategy and secondly there is the need to settle on the approach on “how to innovate”. While it is easy to talk about the rewards of innovation, implementing a successful innovation strategy is not simple. You need a properly structured programme, which is what we offer.’
Why does innovation often not work in the South African business environment, even though most businesses realise how important it is? According to Markoulides, it is usually because they select an inappropriate innovation strategy. ‘Companies often focus on becoming more efficient in their processes (EFFICIENCY INNOVATION), or simply replace one product with another in the market (SUSTAINING INNOVATION). These strategies may improve cash flow and profitability, but are normally not truly innovative.’
BMGI teaches companies EMPOWERING INNOVATION, which in essence provides a solution for a target market that was not able to afford the original solution; and TRANSFORMATIONAL INNOVATION, where the entire business model is adjusted to meet new market needs.
Really innovative companies are not scared to change their entire business model when needed. This may be the creation of a totally new product as the result of new technologies, or backward integration into their supply chain, or forward integration, where they become their own customers. This type of innovation has seen the most dramatic growth of businesses across the world, creating companies that have become household names.
‘We believe that innovation in South Africa has, generally, become stuck at the efficiency and sustaining levels. It is our aim to take our clients into new levels of innovation, encompassing both empowering and transformational innovation,’ says Markoulides.
This is where BMGI’s Certified Innovation Champion Programme comes into focus. The company offers local businesses a successful, road-tested programme that takes the idea of innovation and makes it a usable and reliable business tool that can transform a company.
BMGI has developed the Certified Innovation Champion Programme to allow companies to innovate successfully. One of the key components of the programme is identifying ‘change champions’ within an organization, individuals who are specially selected and specifically tasked with driving and implementing innovation through a well-defined process.
Central to BMGI’s programme is the use of Rapid Innovation ‘events’ to teach members of innovation teams, under the leadership of innovation champions, how to move an innovation idea forward. These events are termed ‘Structured Ideation/Concept Team Events’ by BMGI. ‘We work with the champions and their selected teams in a way that allows them to learn how to implement innovation,’ explains Markoulides. ‘It is practical and goal-directed. Innovation is a skill like any other and needs to be taught by experts and learned by willing and motivated participants. We teach what we call the four D’s.’
Firstly, the company needs to DEFINE the need for change. ‘It could be a new market opportunity, a new territory or a competitive threat,’ says Markoulides.
The second ‘D’ is DISCOVER. The team lays out a variety of possible solutions through various ideation and provocation techniques to meet the innovation opportunity. The solutions are evaluated and the best ones defined as the ideal.
Next comes DEVELOP Phase. Team members create concepts and develop ideas specifically designed to achieve the solution required. Ideas are integrated so as to secure a realistic model/product that will solve the problem.
Finally, the DEMONSTRATE phase arrives. This is where the team puts the ideas into practice by building a working model of the product or service required.
Innovation is like any sport, the harder you work at it the “luckier” you become. No organisation will come up with radical breakthrough ideas if it does not practice innovation- it’s a lesson learnt back in the days of Edison’s Idea factories.
If this trend takes hold, then many of the problems inherent in the South African business environment could become things of the past.