Companies, and the people in them, have a way of describing innovation that reflects their business need. It’s subconscious and revealing. The hidden messages are there, but we must listen to hear them, and the trick is to focus on the adverbs.

What words do you hear around your building most often? Somebody will say something like, ‘we’ve been selling that range for years and it’s done us well, but now we need to innovate…’ and then they utter the important word: quickly, creatively, efficiently, desperately, consistently, now…

How innovation is described is a signal to the real and underlying condition of a business. When staff talk to each other, there’s an element of bias to try and please their peers. Describing a condition in a palatable way doesn’t tell us what we need to know.

‘Innovation’ is talked about regularly without much attention paid to the meaning of the word. You get away with it, because it’s a general term applied to a general problem affecting an entire company. Meetings that discuss innovation, but haven’t first defined the issue to solve, may as well not take place.

To use innovation to solve a problem, you first need to understand it. Blindingly obvious perhaps, but it’s true. It’s why we take time to listen to the real story: the individual perspectives; the sum of the parts that make up more than the whole.

Let’s have a stab at a scenario – you’ve probably been in a similar situation:

Your product has been doing well for years. Recently, your customers have started to pressure you for price reductions, and your marketing team has tried to support the selling process with new communications that re-state the product’s features and benefits. You pick up signals of a new brand in the market, and the reaction from the sales team is to pick up the trade marketing effort.

The problem is seen as reduced revenues per unit and pressure on annual targets from a cash cow. In other words, falling sales. The standard response is to look at distribution gaps, latent customers and segments. Maybe you’ll try some export activity. It rarely works quickly.

Next comes the product/category management meeting and somebody says, ‘we need to innovate quickly/creatively/efficiently/desperately/now…let’s brainstorm/ideate/get the Post-Its out/have an away day…’

But the problem hasn’t been adequately identified, so the solution can’t be either.

This is where we listen hardest. Which adverb was most often used to describe the challenge people see? ‘Quickly’ implies that the core issue set in some time ago, but was ignored because the cash cow was doing OK. ‘Desperately’ suggests something similar, but to a greater degree. ‘Creatively’ says a lack of new ideas is an issue, or that management won’t discuss them. And so on.

If there’s a new competitor in the market that you didn’t see coming, your focus has been too much on you. Look at what your customers want – this is your starting point for designing a solution. Too many teams assume their offering has legs, when the truth is they’ve been getting left behind for a long time already. Be honest here. Lose any misplaced loyalty and move on.

Noticing your adverbs (for instance) helps show how an innovation strategy can anticipate and mitigate against effective competition. Every company has a different culture, and your solution and strategy need to acknowledge yours.

Essentially, there are only two reasons why companies seek help to devise an innovation strategy: to stop a slide or underpin growth. Which one are you?

room44 insists on being called an innovation agency. Our value is delivered not just from sorting out the short term – you’ve already got people to do that – but we’re not change managers or management consultants. Our mission is to go far, wide and deep, and to offer you options that don’t exist in your business today.

We will see your business differently, and we’ll prepare your team to innovate routinely, daily, weekly, monthly, continuously, properly…

We can mentor your people to do it for themselves; we can coach them away from the office or on-site. Whichever way you employ us, there are a few adverbs you’ll hear us use often – like differently, consistently, effectively and now.

Seeing it differently. Future proofing. It’s what we do.

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