When a business finally reaches some growth, it's important to consider one aspect that is not talked about enough regarding innovation – flexibility and adaptability.

What organizations need to take into this new period of growth is the need to be adaptable and to increase the focus on agility, so as to be able to execute change better and get new products and services to market faster.

To keep pace, businesses need to embrace the value of adaptability. In a world in which one picture, one thought, one tweet can go viral in a few minutes, the only certainty is that there is no permanence – which may be why only 18% of executives believe their existing innovation strategy is delivering a competitive advantage!

For many, innovation is a "new priority," but innovation has been a part of the organizational DNA of companies like GE, P&G or Nike for many years. AG Lafley, President and CEO at P&G is well known for his appreciation of design and design thinking. As he says:

“We want to become the number one consumer design company in the world, so we need to be able to make it part of our strategy. We need to make it part of our innovation process.”

Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric understands this as well:

“When I got the job, I knew I wanted the company to be more innovative, more global, and more focused on the customers. But it does take a year or two or three to really put ideas into initiatives and get the team aligned. The big difference is that business leaders have no choices here. Nobody is allowed not to play. Nobody can say, ‘I’m going to sit this one out.’ That’s the way you drive change.”

Take Nike for example. With a worldwide name and some of the biggest sports stars on the planet as brand ambassadors it is easy to think that Nike will be around forever. And yet Nike operates in a marketplace in which fashion and brand identity are the market drivers and the fickle finger of market trend could swing away from the company at any time. Nike counters this threat with an awareness of the need for continuous innovation, agility and fast product-to-market times. Speaking in 2013, Nike CEO, Mark Parker, considered by many as the world’s most creative CEO said, “One of my fears is being this big, slow, constipated, bureaucratic company that’s happy with its success,” adding, “Companies fall apart when their model is so successful that it stifles thinking that challenges it.”

As a result, Nike innovates and responds to trends by incorporating sustainability into its model and by not only keeping an eye on future movements in the marketplace but in playing a leading role in establishing those trends. With ideals including “it is our nature to innovate” and “evolve immediately,” the Nike innovation culture encompasses every employee.

Mark Parker’s fears are unfortunately all too real barriers for many organizations, with 59% citing bureaucracy and 46% claiming their organizational structure as a main barrier to ideas making it to fruition. (That figure rises to 87% in the banking industry!) This goes some way toward explaining why only 28% executives are happy with their companies’ ability to commercialize and launch new products, services and experiences and the consistency of their innovation performance.

In fact, the perception that low innovation is a result of a lack of ideas is far from the truth. The reality is that “lack of ideas” isn’t even in the top three obstacles to innovation. 78% of executives cite challenges around building business cases and 81% say the real challenge is executing and implementing the ideas that have been chosen for development.

But what does that mean for the customer? Quite simply, the more the company embraces adaptability, the more the customer benefits. We may not all go as far as Nike, which believes that “if you have a body, you are an athlete,” but this focus on providing outstanding products alongside outstanding levels of service and experience is one which all businesses can learn from. In a homogenous world, it is the little touches, the attention to detail, the customer care, the response to market trends and the attention to innovation which results in exceptional levels of customer service which feed directly into relevance, longevity and enhanced business performance.

In common with other “next generation” organizations, Nike understands that the world has changed, and to survive in the future you have to create the future. For some this will come easily, but for others it may require a complete transformation in culture, attitudes and practices in order to increase the ability to react, change direction and get things to market faster.

On average, UK corporations take just as long to innovate now as they did in 2009. But, the world we operate in has increased in pace, so in real terms for most organizations, innovation has actually slowed down! However, there seem to be a small unique band of organizations that do it fast. 3% of UK companies are able to get ideas to market in less than six months and it’s not what they are doing that’s any different, it’s how they are doing it! They are using design thinking and design processes to make things happen faster, to co-create, test and prototype faster and more cost effectively than the other 97% of companies.

The design process is a great tool for organizations to embrace in order to build this capability as it creates a pragmatic, staged framework, providing method to a process that can too often be overcomplicated and hampered by company structure and red tape.

Patrick Sirois

At Triode, we specialize in developing new products and services for complex industries like medical devices and transportation. We work with you closely to help define product strategy, with an emphasis on reducing the risks associated with innovating in these sophisticated and often regulated consumer-oriented environments.