Innovation is vital for any organisation, large or small. If you don’t innovate, you’ll be left behind. And what’s more, because everyone innovates, you want to be faster than your direct competitors. These three things can help you accelerate your innovation.

1. Create the right culture in your organisation

Continuous innovation starts with the organisation itself. Everyone has to embrace progress – from the top to the bottom of the organisation – because all the gears have to work together.

A key part of your culture must also be the courage to abandon established processes. Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist who was also responsible for marketing the first Apple Macintosh, talks about the ‘ice industry’ in his presentations. Around 1900, ice harvesters drove horse-drawn sleighs to the great lakes in the U.S., cut blocks of ice by hand, and transported them to the city. Thirty years later, there were factories that could make ice in large refrigeration units. The advantages of that are obvious: you didn’t have to transport ice over long distances, and you could still have it in the summer. But none of the ice factories were owned by the same people that used to saw ice out of the lakes. ‘Their idea of innovation was bigger horse, more horses, big sleigh, sharper saw,’ Kawasaki esplains. Years later, when the first refrigerators came into people’s homes, the ice factories were put out of business for exactly the same reason.

So don’t be afraid to think a few steps beyond your own way of working. Who knows? There might just be a new application among your products or services that is just as disruptive as the refrigerator.

You probably already do this, but be sure to keep an eye on developments in technology. When Uber was founded in 2009, the iPhone had only appeared about 20 months earlier. That’s when everything came together, recalled Laurel Powers-Freeling of Uber UK at a 2019 McKinsey event. More people were moving to cities, and they weren’t satisfied with public transport. But it was the smartphone that created a new market opportunity. ‘If there was no smartphone, there would be no Uber.’

2. Find partners

You don’t have to be able to do everything as an organisation, especially not as a smaller one. Your idea might be exactly the thing that – combined with an idea from another company – could create the new product that conquers the market. So partnership is not a dirty word. On the contrary: together you’re stronger in your innovation.

A concept called ‘open innovation’ describes a practice in which companies exchange knowledge and even patents – for payment or not – so they can mutually benefit from each other’s expertise. Research at the University of California, Berkeley found that companies that operate in this way innovate more and faster, generate new business more easily, and fail less often with innovative new products.

Partnerships can be technology-based, but also on an entirely different level. For example, you could partner with a company that knows how the market works in a particular region, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel and make all the mistakes made so often before.

3. Automate

Human capital might be your company’s most valuable resource. And that capital seems more valuable than ever today because if anything is scarce, it’s good employees. That threatens to stagnate innovation and, as with all scarce resources, the key is to use them as efficiently as possible. That’s why it’s smart and even necessary to automate as many things as possible within your organisation.

An exciting new trend that can help with this is robotic process automation. This involves software tools that are particularly good at handling repetitive administrative tasks automatically. One example is opening emails that contain digital invoices, which must then be entered into your accounting system. Another is monitoring incoming orders. These repetitive tasks are often processes that run in the background, but sometimes they are processes that actually replace a human, complete with a mouse click and keyboard input, all on a virtual computer.

One disruptive technology that makes this possible is ‘low-code’. It allows you to build online or mobile apps using blocks that perform a standard task (‘create a record in the database’) and then link them together with simple code. This is expected to revolutionise organisations because many of these simple apps require few or no developers.

Have you ever wondered how much time the IT department spends on routine tasks? It varies by organisation, but estimates range from 30% to as much as 75% of person-hours. Of course, you can do things much more intelligently. Low-code plays a key role here, but scripting tools also help.

One time-consuming task is deploying, updating and maintaining applications. A tool like Easy Software Deployment can help you win back most of that time, because it gets applications ready and ensures that they are deployed to all computers at the push of a button. The same applies to updates. This frees up the IT department to significantly contribute to new innovations.