You might be persuaded otherwise by the actions of some organisations, but now is the time to innovate.  And before you respond with the old “we can’t afford it” argument, let me tell you that every piece of evidence proves beyond any doubt that far from not being able to afford innovation, you simply can’t afford not to right now.  If you think the recession hit hard and fast, you ain’t seen nothing yet!  If your organisation is sitting there with its metaphorical head between its knees, you’ll know what I mean when the recession starts to lift and your competitors who have had their thinking hats on for the last months kick your sorry backside!

The trick to innovating in recession is no different to the basic rule in boom times.  In fact its the fundamental of every aspect of all business at any time and if you’ve been on this blog before you’ll know what’s coming next … efficiency!  Efficiency is ultimately the only thing that separates successful organisations from unsuccessful ones and, by and large we are all pretty bad at it.  The thing is that most of the time we can get away with being … so-so.  In recession however you really have walk the talk! Yes, tough markets sort out the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff and by and large this time around the recession is definitely reducing the number of half-baked businesses.

The starting point for innovating efficiently is the same as the starting point for efficiency in every area of your business – focus, and the kind of focus I am talking about is the kind that comes from having a clearly defined brand encapsulated in a concise and straightforward Brand Model, such as that which I create with my Brand Discovery programme.

Among many other things, a Brand Model gives any organisation the criteria by which to judge the suitability of everything you do and used properly will enable you to prioritise, cut those ideas that aren’t going to support your Brand Promise, help those you decide to run contribute something truly worthwhile to your business and ensure that tactical initiatives have maximum long term value – that’s efficiency!

Over that last few months I have seen an increase in the number of calls  from organisations who are fine-tuning their brands and this is encouraging.  How they go about it though is sometimes a bit of a worry.  I have just spent some time with a national UK set-up that brought in one of the big consulting firms at colossal expense to help them with this and the result was very disappointing.  The consultancy came in, helped them create something approximating a brand model, which itself left a lot to be desired, and then walked away and left them to it.  Sadly this is a common experience.

A lot of folks don’t realise that building a brand model is one thing, but bringing it to life is where the challenge lies.  The model is really just the working drawings.  To turn it into something concrete – and that includes leveraging its capability to generate business-building ideas – means taking a new perspective on your business.  This in itself represents a radical change for some organisations and involves introducing new practices and maintaining a high level of discipline, all while running the day-to-day business as usual.  Its tough and, believe me it rarely works unless you have to have someone dedicated to keeping it all on track.  Some organisations employ their own brand champion, which really should be at board level, because they need to carry that kind of weight within the organisation, but it makes sense for most businesses to bring in consultants and that’s what I do.

On this foundation you can start building your “ideas organisation”.  Canvassing ideas from within your organisation is a campaign in itself, especially if its new to your culture.  You first have to start by reassuring everyone  that regardless of their level or function, their ideas are as likely as anybody’s  to be that golden key to the future of the business .  I once turned an idea from a junior secretary into a successful new business unit for one of my clients and you could do the same.  Believe me the key to a really great future is probably rattling around the head of one of your employees as we speak.

Once you are generating ideas you’ll need a process for selecting them and developing those that show promise.  Your Brand Model will be an immense help in this, but you still have to set out your day-to-day approach.  I find that its useful for a lot of reasons to offer the person who came up with the idea a role in its development – its motivating and it helps them develop new skills.  You have to decide how you want to set up and run your project teams – one for each idea currently in development – at what points you review projects and what criteria you will introduce at each review.  Its also a good idea to have a reporting system that feeds back to your employees, to maintain their interest and commitment to ideation.

When you have an “ideas organisation” culture, the support of your employees and the processes in place to develop the ideas you’ll be generating ideas, assessing their potential and bringing the most promising ones to market more quickly and efficiently that you probably imagine.  You can fine-tune all the elements of your innovation programme as you go, but ultimately you can’t help but be successful.  Remember, ideas are the currency of business and the race is on to emerge from the recession like a bullet from a gun with all the momentum that only new ideas can generate.

Michael Weaver
August 6, 2009

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