Here are five ways working differently can drive disruption and innovation

If you want to compete, you must be more agile and innovative than the competition


Organizations of all shapes and sizes are swimming in data. From consumer insights and market trends to usage and attitude, there’s enough information floating around to make your head spin. But if you’re able to make sense of this constantly changing, forever-morphing data, you can almost certainly put your business in a much better position.

MIT Sloan School of Marketing found that companies using data and analytics to drive their business decisions experienced up to 6% higher output and productivity than expected. And for every dollar spent on analytics, you’ll see an ROI of as much as $13.01, according to Nucleus Research.

The only issue is what to do with data — and in a timely manner, at that.

Many business leaders struggle to keep up and to understand what’s most important in this data deluge. They question which information should be acted on, how to use it in the most agile way possible and whether any hidden implications will come from its use. No one needs to tell you what a fickle beast social media can be and how quickly things can go from positive to negative in what feels like a nanosecond.

But just because there’s a seemingly endless amount of data to comprehend, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make sense of it all.

Leaders of the pack

Businesses that are most likely to succeed in staying ahead in our digital world almost always have clarity of purpose, position and shared values that provide a common understanding of both the starting point and the end goal, or at least a North Star for direction. As such, they see things through a strategic lens, allowing them to filter, examine and determine criteria for innovation in product, services or operations. And they do an admirable job at keeping pace with market trends.

The food and beverage landscape is just one vertical that has seen a surprising amount of innovation in recent years. The same can be said for consumer goods in general. Specific brands that come to mind are Nike, Starbucks, Apple, Airbnb, and even some “legacy” brands like Johnson & Johnson.

In fact, Johnson & Johnson is collaborating with the University of Pennsylvania to build JPOD, a networking hub to connect researchers and entrepreneurs with the Johnson & Johnson Innovation network. The goal is to provide support and resources for life sciences innovators and accelerate early-stage healthcare solutions for unmet patient needs.

If you were to look at any type of innovation, it’s often twofold: The tangible product an organization takes to market and the intangibles in terms of new business practices an organization adopts to compete in the rapidly changing marketplace.

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More to the point, innovation in its traditional sense of research and development is how businesses tangibly create new offerings for their customer base. Intangible innovation is adapting or leading change in the marketplace; but this, too, creates tangible outcomes for businesses, as it often results in better products or services for customers.

But bringing new business practices to your organization is no small feat, and many companies struggle with not only their ideation, but also their execution. If your hope is to become more innovative, agile and transformative as a business, I suggest you start with the following:

1. Adopt a truly collaborative, sharing environment. Companies tend to lead change from the C-suite. But you’d be surprised by what you can learn about your own organization from those on the work floor. Invite ideas from all levels of your company and foster an iterative approach to innovation. It can provide the fluidity necessary to take advantage of new developments and trends.

2. Become client-centric. The customer experience matters, and in many cases, it’s the only way a company can differentiate itself in the marketplace. Actively listen to your client base and mine ideas from what’s happening at the client service level. Investing in the customer experience can give you the competitive advantage.

3. Focus on continuous learning. Training initiatives almost always peter out once an employee gets his or her sea legs. The person knows how to do the job, so career development now falls on the staff’s shoulders. But continued training is essential to business growth. Look for ways to expand your team’s knowledge and understanding of the marketplace in which you operate and look for relevance in adjacencies.

4. Experiment. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again – or so they say. But you must first give your employees the latitude to try if you ever expect them to keep trying. In other words, empower your team to experiment, and then capture the results to build new initiatives.

5. Start saying yes. Leaders sometimes look for reasons to say "no" to a new idea, which just curtails innovation. If you find that your immediate response is more often negative, take a pause and look for positive ways to build on ideas. Better yet, give employees access to information to better align them with business goals and initiatives as they can help drive the direction of your organization.

The marketplace is in a constant state of flux. If you want to compete, you must be more agile and innovative than the competition, and that all starts from the inside out. Leverage the data that’s available to you, use it to inform your business initiatives, and support your team as they work to grow your business. Otherwise, you could find yourself adrift.

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