What Does It Really Take to Win Business through Continual Innovation?

Innovation is not a one-time thing – it’s an “all the time” thing.  Individuals and teams who keep thinking and keep innovating are always going to win more business than those that don’t. Bidding to provide services, in particular, is never going to be 100% transactional and all about price. It is always about something more. Buyers need help to navigate complex problems that weren’t conceived of a year ago — let alone 10 years ago — but some suppliers are still offering solutions that are well out of date. New solutions can come from anywhere; from a multinational in Texas to a small business from Australia.

For example, Birdon, a small-to-medium marine engineering company from Port Macquarie, was recently awarded a contract worth $A285m to supply the United States Army with 374 specialised boats.  Birdon won against global competitor General Dynamics in a four-year tender process. SmartCompany ran an interview with Birdon Group General Manager Iain Ramsay, in which he acknowledged innovation as the key to the bid’s success. Birdon had purchased an innovative marine propulsion system when it acquired another company, NAMJet, in 2011. Ramsay said  “Our boat design was superior to its competition… The innovation which went into it allowed us to win, even though we weren’t the cheapest on price.”

Innovation isn’t it just about the systems, products and services you build. It’s actually about having a process for continuing to generate improvement ideas.

There are formal, organisational innovation processes like the Ten Types of Innovation, and then there are things that we can each do individually to improve our ability to innovate. In an interview with emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman, Teresa Amabile — Director of Research in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School — identified the four key ingredients for continuous innovation by individuals as domain expertise; the ability to learn new things; creative thinking; and working hard. Domain expertise is about having a depth of knowledge and skill in the area you work in. Being able to learn new things — both inside and outside of what you do and know — will help with creative thinking and original ideas.  Hard work speaks for itself.

To me, this sounds like a pretty good recipe for career success. When innovation becomes a habit, you win, the team wins — and so does the customer.