Innovation Best Practices Essay

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In his book, Beyond the obvious: killer questions that spark game-changing innovation, Phil McKinney (2012) argues that most innovation efforts fail because the right questions are never asked -- people are taught and do not stray from the obvious. McKinney asserts that in a rapidly changing world, people ought to ask the right questions about their businesses -- they must stretch beyond the basic or usual. Indeed, asking the right questions is the heart of innovation (Berger, 2014). Asking the right questions causes a fundamental shift in how a business sees its products and customers, and the way the two interact. In addition to asking the right questions, innovation involves creating an environment that supports innovation and having the right leadership practices. These three themes constitute the focus of this paper. The paper particularly highlights important questions that drive the innovation process and the role of leadership in creating a climate that fosters innovation.

McKinney (2012) outlines a number of "killer questions" that should be the basis of any innovation effort. One of the questions is: What rules and assumptions characterise my operation in the industry? Every industry is characterised by a set of rules and assumptions that often appear as the universal truth. This could be in relation to the needs of consumers, how industry players fulfil those needs, the interaction between manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, and so forth. McKinney (2012) posits that innovation results from challenging or moving beyond commonly held assumptions as they may not necessarily be the absolute truth. He uses the publishing industry as an example. Until a few decades ago, it was generally assumed that books could only be published in print. With the emergence of new media, however, this assumption has been challenged. Readers now desire a more unique experience, real-time interaction with the author, and multiple channels of delivery. Today, books are available in not only print, but also digital, audio, and video formats, offering readers a multidimensional experience.

The revolution of the publishing industry, according to McKinney (2012), closely mirrors that of the music industry. Indeed, the music industry posits as a valuable innovation paradigm for the publishing industry. The delivery of music in compact disks (CDs) is virtually becoming a thing of the past. With internet and powerful mobile devices, consumers now desire to listen to their music whenever and wherever they want. Digital formats fulfil this need. Therefore, businesses must continually challenge the existing industry rules and assumptions. They must consider how to change their offerings in the face of technological advancements and other industry shifts as well as the evolving desires of the consumers. Questioning the prevailing industry conditions often gives birth to breakthrough ideas (McKinney, 2012).

Another question is: What criteria will my customers use in buying products in 5 years from now (McKinney, 2012)? This question amplifies the first. Businesses operate in a constantly changing environment, particularly in terms of customer tastes and preferences. Without keeping up with these changes, a business is unlikely to survive in the long-term. As Satell (2013) puts it, innovation is about getting better and better, meaning that an organisation must constantly introduce products that suit the current tastes and preferences of its customers. It must sustain innovation.

Apple is a good example of a sustaining innovator. The firm did not invent digital music players, smartphones, or even tablets. Nonetheless, the firm improved the existing designs in a way that they appeared like completely new products. It learned that consumers in the foreseeable future would desire more aesthetically appealing, stylistic, and personalised mobile devices. Toyota is another ideal example that constantly thinks about the changing needs and wants of consumers. Though the company manufactures cars just like any other automobile manufacturer, it focuses on making them better. Virtually every year the company introduces car designs and models that are superior to the existing models. This ensures response to the evolving tastes and preferences of its customers.

Both Apple and Toyota have leveraged the notion of disruptive innovation to survive in a rapidly changing environment. Disruptive innovation according to Satell (2013) involves introducing new business models, improving the existing offerings, creating greater value for the customer, and fulfilling needs that consumers did not even know they had. Apple's commitment to disruptive innovation has led to the near-death of former rivals like Nokia and Motorola. Prior to the entry of Apple into the mobile phone market, Nokia and Motorola were the undisputed leaders of the market. These companies, however, were slow in improving their offerings. They failed to respond to the needs and wants of consumers. Today, Nokia and Motorola have relegated to an insignificant portion of the global mobile phone market. Indeed, due to their woes, the two companies had to restructure or be acquired; Nokia was acquired by Microsoft, while Motorola reorganised its operations into two independent entities, with one of the entities being acquired by Lenovo. If Nokia and Motorola had asked the right questions, they would most likely continue to dominate the mobile phone market today.

Another important question is: What are my constant beliefs about what my customers want (McKinney, 2012)? Great organisations are characterised by unwavering values and beliefs, particularly in relation to customers. The adage "Customer is the king" is not uncommon. This adage portrays something fundamental.....

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Adair, J. (2009). Leadership for innovation: how to organise team creativity and harvest ideas. London: Kogan Page.

Baldwin, D. (n.d.). Creating an environment for innovation. Retrieved from:

Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: the power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.

Dandrow, C., Kasen, E., & Callaghan, O. (2016). Want innovation? Ask the right questions. Retrieved from: section/2016/11/07/431110.htm

McKinney, P. (2012). Beyond the obvious: killer questions that spark game-changing innovation. New York: Hachette Books.

Satell, G. (2013, February 11). Before you innovate ask the right questions. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from:

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