The Unseen Benefits of Innovation

Getting fit and healthy is a fairly worthy endeavour, and one that many people devote times and money to.

The primary benefit of improving your fitness normally comes down to a desire to improve your immediate health (you're sick of getting puffed walking up the stairs) or to improve your look (wanting to get rid of the spare tyre around your waist). Once you begin the pursuit of fitness, however, you begin to discover that there's also some unseen benefits to having a healthy you.

Many scholars link health and fitness to mental sharpness, believing that if we have a fit body, we will have a fit mind. Healthy living can improve our self-image and self-esteem, giving us a boost in social situations. People who exercise and eat wisely recover from operations quicker, are less likely to have major health complications later in life, respond to emotional crisis with more control and - if a major zombie outbreak should occur - will last much longer than their sedentary friends.

The same is true of innovation.

Many organisation's pursue (or - at least - say they pursue) innovation as a means to diversify their product and extend into new markets, in the pursuit of higher revenues and lower costs. This is a great benefit of an innovative organisation, and there are countless reports exploring the impact of creativity to an organisation's effectiveness (see, for example, Creativity in Advertising: When It Works and When It Doesn't, in the June edition of HBR). There are, however, a number of unseen benefits that also arise when an organisation pursues an innovative culture.

Within the New Zealand context, Whittaker's Chocolate and Coca Cola combined for one product, called Whittaker's L&P. For those outside of NZ, L&P is an iconic Kiwi drink and Whittaker's is an iconic Kiwi chocolate company. These organisation's have made an innovative product, by combining these two icons in one product. The revenue figures have not been made public to determine whether this innovation is a success, but I have observed three other benefits that cannot be measured through financial analysis.

1. Innovation is Seen as Fun

In 1996, chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov took on IBM chess computer Deep Blue in a series of matches pitting man against machine. Results aside, what was of particular note was the fact that people around the world were rooting for Kasparov. They wanted the human to win and beat the machine, as a sign that human creativity and intelligence was still something more than what can be programmed.

Computer development is happening faster and faster, but the human brain outshines technology in its ability to combine ideas in unique and novel ways. Creativity is a distinctly human act - and is something that everyone can relate to, often in a positive bent.

Whether you remember designing LEGO creations as a child or dreaming up ideas with friends over dinner - creativity is fun. When an organisation is innovative and the public learns of their innovative efforts, this fun is associated with the organisation. In an era of public suspicion and doubt regarding companies - this human positive association is a great one to have!

2. Innovation is Progressive

When an organisation is seen to be innovative, it gives the sense that the organisation is alive and growing. It is moving forward into the future and sees change as a positive challenge to be embraced and enjoyed.

Xero are a great example of this. Xero have combined cloud-based computing with innovative accounting software, that gives incredible financial management tools to small and medium businesses around the world. Their innovation efforts are definitely cutting edge and seek to combine new technologies in new ways. As such, this gives them a sense of progressive growth - and an anticipation of what will they do next?

As Xero expand, it is likely they will diversify their products and create innovative new products. The expectation will be that they will also be cutting edge - and people will begin to look forward to the next product release. One only has to look at Apple to see how much of a benefit the value of 'progressive' can be to an organisation.

3. Innovation is Local

Most innovations start out small before they are released to global markets. As such, these innovations also have the added benefit of being grounded in a particular time and space, giving the impression of a local organisation. Within the age of global multi-nationals, the ability to appear local is of tremendous value to your organisation.

United Sweets is an NZ based candy maker, who started their business selling their sweets at the Hamilton Frankton markets. Within the last twelve months they have grown their business to supplying lollies across New Zealand and have the potential to expand into international markets - yet because of their innovative early efforts, they are grounded in the Hamilton context. Hamiltonians 'own' United Sweets - and if they continue to innovate and test these products locally, this will be a valuable relationship for them to develop.