Developing internal entrepreneurs in Middle Eastern companies requires a dramatic change in language and behavior. However, one thing has become clear: every corporation in the region is talking about innovation.
Companies large and small understand that in order to survive they need to create new products, processes and services that are profitable and competitive. These intentions are important and necessary, but they are not enough to generate new ideas or turn them into profitable growth. Time and time again, executives in the region are struggling to innovate.
Yet there is a highly effective way of teaching, communicating and embedding innovation into even the most resistant company cultures. Here are a few principles we all can apply to speak—and more importantly act—in ways that generate more innovation.
Talk more about discovery
Corporate managers are great at execution. And who can blame them? Large organizations reward employees who can design and implement a plan that minimizes risk without failure. The problem is that perfect execution is often the antithesis to innovation. Innovation is messy, disruptive and iterative; and there is no innovation without failure.
Test your idea on customers. Throw out the common assumption that you “know what the customer wants,” and accept that launching a new product is a venture into the unknown—more like proving a hunch or testing a hypothesis.
Ask your customers the right questions
While most companies will say that they talk to their customers, usually they are asking the wrong questions and gathering data that predicts the past rather than the future.
After acknowledging that a new idea for a product, process or service is only a series of guesses, you can quickly validate or invalidate your hypotheses by interviewing your customers. If your idea is supported by customer feedback, you then talk to more and more customers, until you have the data to support a valid business case. If your idea is invalidated by customers, scratch it out or change it to something new.
The key here is to ask the right questions, ones that are open and unbiased, beyond the standard “How are we doing?” or “What features can we add to our existing product?”
Stop talking about business plans
Business plans are a terrible way to predict the future. During the early stages of innovation, there is no such thing as a perfect plan. A Business Model Canvas is a visual tool that maps out nine blind spots to fill in order to scale and sustain your idea (Value Proposition, Customer Segments, Channels, Customer Relationships, Revenue Streams, Key Resources, Key Partners, Key Activities, and Cost Structure).
Unlike a business plan, the Business Model Canvas is an ongoing draft. As you gather data from customers, you can confirm your hypotheses or make changes to them.
In your quest to move forward, you are forced to engage not only with customers, but also internal and external stakeholders across different industries, divisions, geographies and business segments. This data can lead to new products, processes and services, as well as design internal projects and value potential investments. Overall, replacing guesswork with a scientific method greatly improves decision making.
Like learning any language, applying these principles takes practice. You need to interview at least 100 customers and expect them to have at least one major change. Repetition leads to lasting behavior change, helping employees to see and validate further opportunities. Internal entrepreneurs are flexible and dynamic employees who can spot and validate new ideas, and work and communicate across internal and external borders. By supporting these intrapreneurs, companies not only talk the talk but also walk the walk of new and profitable ideas, creating a sustainable yet disruptive innovation culture.