Now is the time to put good ideas into practise
Innovation is a word which many of us may be familiar with but do little about. It gets talked about in terms of new products or ways of doing things.
Mike Harris, who founded Egg, First Direct and latterly Garlik, an identity protection business, says that innovation is simply: “An insight into unmet needs in the entire customer experience.” He helped Royal Bank of Scotland to innovate when it didn’t have the capital to buy firms to grow its business.
“RBS was bureaucratic and hard to change – if innovation can be done there it can be done anywhere,” he said, addressing the British Council for Offices annual conference last month.
Mr Harris suggests approaching innovation in a structured way: first by getting to the customer insight, then putting ideas together as to how to address that, producing a prototype, piloting it and if successful, launching. “Don’t worry about failure, just make sure it is fast and cheap,” he said.
Crucially, ideas must be put into practise in a way which generates cash and beats the competition.
WSP director Bill Price says innovation can be a simple idea. “It can be about a method or a process, a material or the way that something works. There is a temptation to think that you have to be Richard Branson or invent the ipod. It could be one of our engineers coming up with something inventive,” he says. He adds that crucially, it must be linked to value and not just be there for the sake of ‘structural gymnastics’.
Top tips for innovating
- If you have an idea: “Make it crystal clear in the first 60 seconds what [your idea] is about and how it can make money. Talk to everyone in the organisation all the time and either it will click with someone or it won’t,” says Mike Harris.
- It needn’t cost a fortune. WSP’s Bill Price says: “We don’t have a huge research and development budget, it’s about practical steps in the drive for value.”
- Pick teams carefully. “Have diversity. You can get knowledge transfer of things that come from one industry and into another. You are trying to create something better, different and new,” says Mr Price.
- Consider which clients might like to see innovation. “Some ideas you have to take to clients to understand, some want to take advantage of it and understand the risk involved. With a new client they might find it quite impressive.
- NG Bailey aims to have 20 per cent of the hours of the project done off site. Director Cal Bailey says: “Productivity [the time spent working] is only on average about 35 per cent on site [industry-wide], at NG Bailey it is about 38 per cent, but in a factory this is 70-80 per cent.” To try to increase on-site productivity the firm aims to use its own supervisors on all jobs.
- The simplest ideas can be the most innovative. Giving a presentation to BAA, Mr Price handed everyone a screw made by German firm Spax. Its wood screw has very sharp points coated with Teflon so they go into wood easily. The thread is very sharp – like mini blades – these are very thin and sharp compared to the width of the blade. “So effectively Spax has reinvented the screw,” he says. And although they cost more, they are more efficient and reliable.