The importance of innovation for businesses. Part 1: My personal journey to innovation.

I'm the son of an inventor, my dad made his living from patents on mains electricity and thinking of new ways to heat people's homes, so I grew up in a household where we constantly tinkered with the electric motors, kitchen appliances and any garden machinery! He was always on the lookout for new and more efficient ways to do things. We always had science magazines laying around the house and often watched scientific documentaries on TV.

So what has that got to do with running a digital marketing agency? And why is innovation important for business organisations?

Much like my dad, I’m always on the lookout for new technologies and new approaches to problems, but instead of thinking about electricity I look at the problems we face in advertising and marketing. Back in the beginning, I knew the internet would be an amazing force, a complete shift from the old way of doing things, it was what I was looking for. I was hooked very early on, without realising the impact it would have on every single aspect of my life. As a business, we were able to completely change the products and services we were offering our clients and start offering marketing services via the web for some of the most innovative companies in the UK, and the world! Companies that could see the future and were bold enough to risk money on the internet and the freshly developing web.

"If you are not moving forward you are going backwards"

This has never been more true than today, when the pace of change is faster than ever before. I’ve said in presentations over the last few years “Innovate or Die”, which might seem a little over-dramatic but rings true when you look at why companies are failing.

There are more and more companies going bust because they are failing to innovate, failing to respond to new customer demands, and failing to change even in relatively straight forward areas like their digital marketing.

"Very few of the companies that were in the top 100 of the Stock Market in 1900 were there in 2000, and how many will be there still in 100 years time?"

If, as a business, you are simply maintaining the status quo you are moving towards your own demise! When you go out of business, no one will care! Take a look at the best up and coming companies, they are all ardent about innovation, disruption and change.

Companies like Netflix, Spotify, Uber and Amazon are all committed to the radical reinvention of themselves and the markets they operate in.

So what can you do to start to innovate or innovate more?

You can learn from the best, most innovative businesses, in this case Amazon:

  1. Don’t get trapped in a state of lethargy - no matter how large you are you can’t think like a “big corporate”.
  2. Take risks, try the flip side, allow failure.
  3. Experiment, try things that have a high chance of failure - stay true to your values, even after failure, and keep experimenting.
  4. Stay innovative, one shot will almost never succeed, build innovation into your process

As an inventor, my father used to say that the best ideas come from the best problems, and it was only when working on difficult problems could he come up with ingenious solutions. He always felt that “necessity is the mother of invention”

"I think the best ideas come from the best questions."

Some of the best questions are very difficult to ask (let alone answer) but that’s what makes them even more important to ask. These questions will strike at the very core of your organisation and it’s not unusual to meet a fair bit of resistance from people whose jobs may be lost or changed (people hate change in their lives!).

The more difficult the issue, the more important the question. Take the bigger questions for example, like “Why do we exist as a company?” “What is our social purpose?” These are vitally important to consider, and if you don’t know the answer, you’ll struggle to move forward as a business.

You should also think about smaller questions like “What do people hate about our website?'' and, “How can we make our mobile experience more user friendly”?

I always like to ask “what if” questions too, like “what if we made this process easier?”, “what if we made this more accessible?”.

It's important to question yourself as a business, and the '"why" questions are crucial, "why do we do that in that way?".

If you don’t know why your business does something a certain way, you are likely to end up just following old habits and routines. Your business will end up doing something for no other reason than that’s the way you’ve always done it. You could be missing a simpler and more effective process that takes your business forward.

There is a (really awful, in my opinion) management technique called the “5 Whys”, in which a problem or issue is posed, before it is questioned why it is as it is, and then questioned why again a number of times until the root of the issue is reached. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a 5 Whys interrogation you’ll know how difficult it can be to answer. Try it yourself before your boss does!

Asking questions of your business is important to get to the root of what you want to achieve, how you are currently working, and where you should be heading.

Innovation and transformation is the only future for companies and organisations large and small and digital innovation is key to that.

In Part 2 of this blog I’m going to cover why innovation is important in digital marketing and the drivers that are making us commit so many resources to it.

Ash, Managing Director

Ash set up Bolser in 2001 and is renowned for innovation in digital marketing and cycling to work most days!