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Innovate Your Future

Once upon a time, long, long ago in a land far, far away there was a great company. Others eyed their achievements with great admiration and even jealousy. Friend and foe aspired to be like them, to achieve what they achieved. Then, out of the blue, something big and unexpected happened that changed everything and today, alas, the great master is no more. 


This unfortunately is no fairy tale. It is real, and it happened neither far away nor long ago.  The protagonist in this story could be Kodak, Nokia, Motorola, Atari, Blockbuster, Polaroid, or Palm.  What do all of them have in common? They failed to spot the changing world around them, and even if they saw it, they failed to act – in short, they failed to innovate.  Where they once were the leaders, they suddenly failed to just keep up (tweet this). 

Technology innovation pushes business innovation

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Developing innovative technology is no guarantee of becoming an industry leader. Successful

innovation is largely related to uncovering new business models. Kodak may have invented the digital camera,but completely missed the digital camera revolution by failing to capitalise on the social aspect of photo sharing. In the same way, others like IBM, Nokia and Ericsson invented the smartphone but it was Apple that made the best of the technology, bringing the iPhone to stardom with the concept of “your world in your pocket” and “there is an app for that”.


The Uberized Economy


The ability to apply new technology to turn an established industry into its head is what turned companies that were barely recognisable until recently into household names: Uber with taxis, iTunes with music, Amazon with bookshops, airbnb with traditional hotels, zipcar with rentals, etc.

It would be too easy to say the people in charge of the failing companies and industries were or are not clever enough.  That they missed the boat.  In fact, in many of these cases, they knew they were marching towards the abyss, but still could not change to avoid it.  There have been lectures, scholarly articles and even documentaries dedicated to why this happened.  For me, in the end, the ability to innovate boils down to three elements:

  1. Focus
    How many times have we seen that companies try to be everything for everybody?  They want to have answers to all the questions and try to have a solution for every need.  This dilutes the efforts and attention to what really matters to them as a company and to their long term survival.  Things change fast; if you have your eyes on too many balls, it will take too long, cost too much, or not have the desired impact.
  2. Confidence
    Risk aversion is the antidote for innovation (tweet this).  By definition, innovation is new and has not really been tried before.  Companies fear that if they get it wrong, the shareholders will lambast them, or that they will damage the existing business, or fail to meet vital KPIs. IT departments fear that introducing something new will disrupt their lives, will create instability and additional demand in a world where they are already struggling just to keep the lights on.
  3. Resources
    Money and knowledge are the two key players that can make you or break you.  The right innovation makes tons of money, but getting it right can cost money.  Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” But finding those 10,000 ways cost money. Can we save money by failing fast?(
    tweet this) And what if we know what to do and what needs to happen?  Can we find the people with the capability and courage to make it real?  And remember, capability is more than knowledge and skills; it’s about people who believe in the outcomes as much as we do.


Innovation phases


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Over the next few blogs I will break down the concept of innovation and consider how we can find focus, build confidence and free up/access resources.  There probably is an official “innovation lifecycle management” methodology, but for simplicity sake, I call the phases:

  • Innovation Preparation
  • Innovation Discovery
  • Innovation Adoption/Creation
  • Innovation Operation


My intention is to share insights, make recommendations, and as a result help companies and the people that work for them succeed in this state of innovation opportunities. I hope you will find my musings useful.  If you have examples where innovation opportunities were missed, or on the other hand, where simple yet effective innovation is changing the world, please share (tweet this).  I will share what I’ve seen from many customers embarking on the innovation journey. If you have experiences and lessons learned from making the innovation process work, I would love to hear them.


Paul Helms,
VP for Enterprise Support and Premium Engagements at SAP

Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn


Original creative commons images can be found here and here

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2 Comments

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  1. Parminder Kaur

    Great read Paul, as always – jargon free and yet very strong message.

    Will also be good to know about your views on Innovation at individual level. There is a huge chunk of our work that we all do just by ourselves and yet innovation tends to be mostly top to bottom approach. If we look at Uber, airbnb – there is a trend of innovation at the level of fundamental processes of these businesses – individual(s) needing/deciding to do something differently.  It will be interesting to discuss how one can be innovative at an individual level in an organisation. Any examples, thoughts?

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    1. Paul Helms Post author

      I often see a lot of what you call individual innovation that doesn’t go anywhere for the same reasons (confidence, resources). Progressive companies harness that (eg innovation days/development jams/inovation budgets…).  Nevertheless, if your company is not one of them there are still things one can do. For example, if your idea will make peoples life/job easier, you’ll be surprised at how much if their own time/energy they will invest. Before you know it the new idea will have become the defacto standard way of doing things. Sometimes this is even easier than doing the big shifts. It just needs focus and determination 🙂

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