Innovate... or break!

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Climate change, cyber-attacks and business disruptors may, at first glance, seem unrelated but they are all key threats to business sustainability. There is, however, a common tool to build resilience against them – innovation. So how can organizations be innovative enough in order to roll with the punches of an increasingly uncertain world?

It feels like the world is moving faster than ever, which means that companies in every sector must prioritize innovation or risk disappearance. The digital age has created a whole range of business challenges that have impacted the speed and process of innovation. If it seems like many of the companies you knew from childhood are no longer with us, it’s because they haven’t embraced innovation. Conversely, if they are still here, it’s because they’ve adapted not just once, but time and again. Companies that fail to adapt risk being made obsolete.

Remember the days of Blockbuster videos, Blackberry phones and Tower Records? They are just some of many examples of businesses that suffered and died with the introduction of newer technologies or dramatic changes in consumer behaviour. Others, however, like Apple or McDonald’s, have managed to weather such storms and come back even stronger than before.

So what did the survivors have that the others didn’t? The ability to innovate.

Companies must be continually looking forward, ready to adapt and change in order to maintain the business.

What is innovation?

The first definition of innovation grew out of experimental innovation surveys carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in the 1980s. This led to a first attempt of how to define innovation for measurement purposes in the Oslo Manual in 1992. The definition has broadened since then and the Oslo Manual 2018: Guidelines for collecting, reporting and using data on innovation now defines four types of innovation: product, process, marketing and organization.

ISO’s technical committee for innovation management, ISO/TC 279, was a key player in the development of the definition found in this most recent version of the Oslo Manual, ensuring alignment with definitions in ISO standards and taking into account their different requirements. This includes the recently published ISO 56000, Innovation management – Fundamentals and vocabulary, which, along with the Oslo Manual, states that an “entity” is an innovation when it is “new or improved and realizes or redistributes value”.

Innovation is an increasingly important contributor to a company’s success, because it improves its ability to adapt in a changing world. Novel and innovative ideas give rise to better ways of working, as well as new solutions for generating revenue and improving sustainability. In this sense, innovation is closely linked to the resilience of an organization in that it helps it to understand and respond to challenging contexts, seize the opportunities that this might bring and leverage the creativity of both its own people and those it deals with.

Business Success

Ultimately, big ideas and new inventions are often the result of a long series of little thoughts and changes, all captured and directed in the most effective way. Implementing an innovation management system helps to do just that. It provides a systemic approach for integrating innovation into all the layers of an organization in order to seize and create opportunities for the development of new solutions, systems, products and services.

Published in 2019, ISO 56002 is the first International Standard for innovation management systems. Combining current thinking and research, it is a key tool for organizations because it provides best-practice guidance on how organizations can go about setting up a structured management system for innovation.

Alice de Casanove, Head of Innovation Culture at Airbus and Chair of ISO/TC 279, says guidance such as this is highly useful for innovation departments in large businesses and SMEs alike. “We take innovation very seriously at Airbus, as without an innovation culture, we just wouldn’t be where we are today,” she says. “Standards like these help us to train innovation practitioners because they are objective and well structured, enabling us to more effectively maintain and grow this culture.”

The 7 secrets of successful innovation: 

Give your innovation management system a health check with ISO/TR 56004.

  1. Add value to the organization.
  2. Challenge the organization’s strategy and objectives.
  3. Motivate and mobilize for organizational development. 
  4. Be timely and focused on the future. 
  5. Allow for context and promote the adoption of best practices. 
  6. Be flexible and holistic. 
  7. Have an effective and reliable process.

A business that is solid whatever the circumstances has a good base from which to be innovative, and that innovation in turn increases its strength.

Female clinical registrar perched sideways on a desk discusses with two male colleagues a patient's test results displayed on a large screen.

Doctors discuss a patient’s test results displayed on a large computer screen.

Companies as knowledge incubators

However, innovation management is essential for all organizations, whether they have a dedicated department or not. “Guidance such as that offered by ISO 56002 helps every business manage its ideas, continually improve, and prepare against business disruptors such as the competition,” adds de Casanove. It also helps instil a culture of innovation in the company, thereby harnessing the creativity and motivation of the staff and ultimately improving its overall performance.

If big ideas come from little thoughts, capturing them effectively is the first step. Knowledge, like people, is for many organizations a hugely valuable asset as it enables them to make informed decisions. It also helps them to innovate. But we live in a world of big data and information overload, which means that managing this information so that the magic sparks of ideas are plucked from the flux requires some thought-out process.

Companies are beginning to realize that knowledge is an essential corporate asset that needs to be managed like any other asset. It needs to be developed, retained, shared, adapted and applied. ISO 30401, Knowledge management systems – Requirements, helps organizations get started with or improve existing knowledge management by implementing a management system that promotes and enables value creation through effective knowledge and information management.

Corporate resilience

Managing an organization’s knowledge effectively not only contributes to innovation by capturing those bright ideas, it helps to strengthen it at the same time. Because innovation breeds resilience and resilience breeds innovation. While there is no such thing as a sure-bet business in this day and age, making it resilient in the face of impending world tumult is as close as it can get. What’s more, it creates a virtuous cycle with innovation, because a business that is solid whatever the circumstances has a good base from which to be innovative, and that innovation in turn increases its strength.

So how do you become resilient? “Enhancing resilience should be a key focus for organizations, particularly in light of the COVID-19 experience,” says James Crask, Convenor of ISO/TC 292, ISO’s expert committee for security and resilience. “Being aware of potential vulnerabilities, adapting to change and harnessing the ability to turn threats into opportunities are means to ensure a business not only survives, but thrives.”

Implementing ISO 22316 for organizational resilience is a good way to achieve that. The standard features a framework to help organizations future-proof their business by building and sustaining their adaptive capacity to transform and renew themselves in the light of complex change. It does so by providing the principles to create a resilience culture, make effective use of an organization’s knowledge, encourage effective and empowered leaders and enable an organization to deliver on its commitments in the face of change.

The results are worth the effort. “A shared vision and purpose and a diversity of skills, leadership and knowledge are just some of the characteristics of a resilient organization,” says Crask. This creates a cohesive organization ready to withstand virtually anything – including business disruption.

Mid shot of a man preparing a scale model of an airplane in a workshop at Airbus’ Filton manufacturing site in Bristol, England.

A scale model of a plane is prepared for testing in the Airbus aircraft manufacturerʼs Filton site in Bristol, England.

If big ideas come from little thoughts, capturing them effectively is the first step.

Smart robotic farmers in agriculture futuristic robot automation to vegetable farm,Smart farm concept

The disruption factor

Being able to react and respond quickly and effectively to unexpected business disruptions is another benefit of preparedness. Known as business continuity or disaster recovery plans, these are nothing new for many organizations, but they need to keep being renewed in order to be relevant.

ISO 22301 was the world’s first International Standard for business continuity management when it was published in 2012. Since then, it has been helping organizations implement and maintain effective business continuity plans, systems and processes. The popular standard has recently been updated to incorporate the learnings of its first years of use and keep the content in line with international best practice, helping organizations to respond to, and recover from, disruptions effectively. This means reduced costs and less impact on business performance should something go wrong. What’s more, companies with multiple sites or divisions can rely on the same consistent approach throughout the entire organization.

Crask says that having demonstrably robust plans in place pays dividends in the long run, even if they are never used. Being able to reassure clients, suppliers, regulatory bodies and the like that you are prepared should disaster strike instils a high level of confidence in your organization, with all the attendant benefits. Improved business performance, a smooth ride with the regulators and being attractive to investors are just some of these benefits. What’s more, you will have a better understanding of your business after having analysed all the critical issues and areas of vulnerability.

Time to innovate

Disruption can also come from industry competitors. Hotels didn’t know what hit them when Airbnb began to take off and Uber introduced an entirely new model of competition for the taxi industry. “It’s not enough to have a great idea,” remarks de Casanove. “Companies must be continually looking forward, ready to adapt and change in order to maintain the business. Which means constantly innovating.”

And innovate, Airbus certainly does. It is currently investigating and investing in new technologies such as those related to helicopters, electric flight, and quantum and urban mobility. Standards can be a critical tool in bringing these ideas to fruition and supporting their successful evolution by helping them to harness and maximize ideas in a structured way. The use of recognized International Standards can also give a seal of approval, instilling confidence in future investors and future trade partners all over the world.

What’s more, as a benchmark of international best practice, standards provide methods, systems and processes that can help businesses save time and resources, freeing up valuable working hours for fresh, inventive activity. This is where companies need to be if they want to have a competitive edge, attract good talent and ultimately survive in the ruthless world of business. Maintaining the status quo is a thing of the past. The future is for those who innovate. 

ISOfocus Septiembre/Octubre 2020

Innovation generation

All industries have to continually innovate, whether its technology or retail. But how? Look no further than this edition of ISOfocus for more.

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Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis
Editor-in-Chief of ISOfocus