Small Steps Toward Innovation

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31
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Join us as we discuss practical tips and advice on how to implement small steps toward innovation.

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Transcript

Scott: Welcome everyone to the first ever episode of The Digital Difference podcast. We wanted to start a new podcast to talk about all things digital in today's companies. So I'm your co host, Scott, and I'm joined this evening by your other co host Oliver Moradi. Oli, did you want to give a quick hi, and give a bit of background to yourself.

Oliver: Yeah, hi everyone. So I've been in a few creative roles over the past 10 years. I started as an assistant television producer on things like America's Got Talent, and did a few independent things as well. And then I moved on to being an instructional designer within the financial industry. Past few years doing that and then more recently I've taken the role of being a multimedia content designer, supporting digital learning and marketing strategies. That's really me.

Scott: Cool. That's great. And as a quick entry to myself, so I've been involved in software development primarily for the past 10 years or so. Helping companies mainly through digital transformation projects and programmes, working with a variety of teams. So lots of experience between the two of us. And we wanted to get together on a regular basis and chat about all things digital and how it's affecting companies these days.

So our first topic today, pretty interesting one at the moment, we're recording this right now during the UK lockdown period following the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak. And obviously, this is affecting everyone in their personal lives. And of course, also affecting the way that companies are operating at the moment. You look at pretty much any industry and there's just a tremendous amount of innovation within different companies out there at the moment in order to keep going in these kind of tough times. But the nature of these changes, that the viruses bringing in the necessity of staying indoors, a lot of this innovation of course is is using and also producing digital services, which is fantastic to see in our industry.

So the topic of tonight's discussion is small steps towards innovation as a company. And firstly, innovation is a huge topic itself especially when words like "digital transformation" are thrown about all over the place, I mean, Oli, you must have heard this all over the place with companies it seems to be the hot topic of pretty much every five years comes along there's there's a new digital transformation going on. So I mean, innovation itself. I wonder if we just break that down? What what are we talking about today?

Oliver: Right. So, for me, innovation, innovation is everywhere. It's not just within digital, it's within everyday life. So wherever you do, all the time, there's always gonna be something innovative that you're doing, whether you create a new way of eating your breakfast, for instance.

[Laughter]

Oliver: If we're going to focus down into digital innovation, for me, innovation is using kind of new, it's kind of blending that difference between software and design. And then thinking of new ways of how we how we would present that. So it's always, for me, innovation is just thinking of new creative ways of doing something, maybe in a more agile way, or in an easier, more straightforward, effective way. And that, to me, is what I think innovation is. So, for me, like Scott, what why do you think innovation is important?

Scott: Well, I mean, of course, you know, innovation is really I think, what what has to drive businesses these days, you know, we are rapidly moving away from industries or from companies relying on things like manufacturing often where we're pushing out the same content day in day out. I think it's really interesting that you mentioned creativity as being one of the core factors because I think more and more companies are having to rely on that creative edge and being at the forefront of innovation within their industry to really stay effective these days. As you say, I think that does come not just from Digital, but right across the board. And I think it has to be embraced by by the whole company. But of course, that is a larger cultural thing. You know, these things take time, and often there are just smaller steps to get there. So, I mean, how about you Oli, why do you think it's important that companies are innovative in these times?

Oliver: Well, I think you pretty much summed up there, Scott. For me, innovation is everything. I don't think companies are innovative enough. But I think innovation is so important because it's constantly moving us forward. New creative ideas, inventing new ways of doing things, is, I think it's really important. It's the development and the evolution of our business, especially within digital. At the moment, it's such an expansive thing. An element itself, if you will, and it's, I think, innovation within that is just branching off new ideas and new ways of using it. So, it just makes business more effective, more agile. I think it's really, really important in terms of growth within a business.

Scott: Yeah, I totally agree. I think, you know, when we talk about where this starts from, I mean, I mentioned that culture is this huge thing that takes time to change? And I think it does. Well, actually, I think that's one of the core tenants of getting this right often. And lots of companies I've seen often will have IT departments quite often in place to drive a lot of these changes, but without the rest of the company behind it. These things don't happen. And, you know, you mentioned right at the start about it being right across the board in terms of innovation, and we can we can see innovation everywhere. And I just think there's so much opportunity out there for these companies. We talk about kind of the current times and as we've said, right at the start, we've seen a lot of companies take some pretty extraordinary steps to develop their corporate services in these times and remain competitive and remain in business even.

So in terms of kind of the practical steps companies can take, I mean, one that's quite often used, of course, especially within the IT industry and software development, especially, are the Agile ways of working. And I wonder, Oli, if you might kind of introduce agile as a as a concept and how we deal with it within the software industry, how maybe it could apply to the wider business.

Oliver: Yeah, absolutely. So I think agile is this new, exciting thing that every business want to take on, but a lot of businesses don't understand. Essentially, agile in itself is working with maybe a little bit more freedom but also within a shorter period like to produce more content within, especially within our industry, it's kind of produce more content, but within a shorter period, and it's kind of continuously rolling out for us within digital industry, new content consistently over short bursts. So for us, I mean, you know, if you if you think about within a waterfall structure, project management style, you would have your project, and you'd have your outline, you know, you'd have your build time. You'd have your testing time and you have the implementation. I think with agile, it's more it focuses around more of those short bursts.

Do you agree, Scott, in terms, especially within our industry, within digital, it's like when you're creating digital content?

Scott: No, I think absolutely. I think you're absolutely right. And I think actually agile, it can often seem like this big scary thing, especially to those those companies who hear the word banded about but don't necessarily understand it. As you've said, agile, at the heart of it is just being able to adapt and change, you know, we do away with these big long programmes of work, that take months of design, and we know often we meet the criteria. And we replace that with quick, iterative ways of working and thinking even.

And, you know, if we take that core principle and apply it to any other part of the business, we can easily put those those those same principles into place. So we think about HR, you know, no longer are we dealing with the huge learning programmes, for example that we're dealing with, from days past, you know, we're not designing programmes for months on end, and then roll them out. And of course, we've now moved on in the world in terms of what we need to learn and the tools we need to practice. And instead, we're replacing that with just-in-time learning and pieces like that. I think agile as a as a concept can be, you know, dropped into pretty much anywhere. And of course, as we've seen today, companies are needing to be agile just to deal with the pretty rapidly changing times that we're in.

Oliver: I think that's a key word there, Scott as well, is the word "rapid". I think that companies are continuously wanting to have results, rapid results as well, especially with the digital industry. And this is where innovation comes into it as well. Innovation is expected but it's not always welcomed. And within our industry, it's very important, especially with the digital industry, of course, it's very important to have rapid content continuously being produced because it's a demand. With innovation involved as well, it's producing that new content that is continuously supporting those business goals. And I think I think that at the moment is imperative, that innovation is used, not even in just in the idea of creating the contents, or even the content - innovative ways of actually working within agile itself. For instance, it's using different types of agile, using Scrum and things things like Kanban and know when to apply that. And I think that in itself is just innovative, within a project.

Scott: Yeah, totally. It's, you know, it's a huge leap to take on something like these frameworks, but actually, I think the risk is often seen as something that's bigger than this. And I think agile is one of those things that can be dropped in as a, as a almost frame of mind for the company to work in, you know, we are now looking at a company where we don't need to make huge risks in everything we do, we can test things quickly. If they don't work, that's fine, but what it does is start to develop this underlying kind of culture of trying things, testing them and just seeing what happens.

Oliver: Yeah, and I think this is where design thinking comes into play, Scott.

Scott: So what is design thinking?

Oliver: So essentially design thinking is, and I'll use an example here - every business needs a solution, A stakeholder come to you and they'll need a solution to a problem that they have, or solution to something that needs, that problem that needs to be solved within the business. So what we'll do is I use this word rapid before is as creatives will do some rapid prototyping. So it's not just going to be, we have a little design session and then think of an idea and that's how we're going to move forward with it. In the sense of design thinking is, we will have an idea, we'll take it to the stakeholder, stakeholder will say, I kind of like that. It'll come back down to, it'll come back round to us again. And we'll then prototype another piece of content and we'll continuously do that until we and the stakeholder are in sync with our ideas, and exactly what we want, and then we'll go forward from that. So it's basically rapidly producing bits of content and being continuously in communication with your stakeholder to then finally, come to a solution that you both agree upon. And then you can start the implementation.

The problem is at the moment, and I find this a lot in business is that you will, you'll go ahead and you and you'll have your initial design thinking. Sorry, you have initial design meetings, or what have you. And you know, you'll talk to your stakeholder you'll get, you'll ask, they'll provide what sort of solution they want, you'll go away and you'll create something that that's what you'll create. Then you'll finally have that final communication with the stakeholder and the stakeholder will return around and say "ah, this isn't really right". And this is where then you'll be going back and forth, at the very end of a project timeline. You'll find that you're running up to a deadline that you don't have time to, you don't have time for. Implementation hasn't even come around yet, and you're still bouncing these ideas off just to get this one idea right. And then you give yourself very little time to create the content. And this is where errors always come about. I think it's very, very important. I think this, Scott, you probably have seen this before as well. I think it's very important to implement design thinking early on, and I think it's also an innovative way to come up with a correct solution. I think it's very, very important.

Scott: Yeah. And I'd like to say I haven't been there, but of course, we all have, where we've spent far too long on the wrong solution. Right.

Oliver: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it's, you know, it's the most disheartening thing as well. You spend months creating something and finally, the stakeholders turn around and said they don't like it. You have to go back to the drawing board. And not only have you wasted time, you're disheartened because, you know, you've gone out and you might have created something really good, but it just doesn't suit their needs. Though, I think this is where design thinking is really, really important in the initial stages of any project is to basically have those, have that early communication really. I mean, design thinking part of it, yeah, fair enough is your prototype. So you continuously give out new ideas. And it's making you more creative because you're having to think of new ways continuously. But the back and forth communication between you and the stakeholder means that you're in sync, it means you're on board one another. If you, and I know a lot of time, I mean, especially well, I've been involved in a lot of projects where we've got the stakeholders needs, and we've gone and built a solution and it just hasn't been to what, to their liking. And in the end of the day it's the stakeholder, is the customer, really, and if the customer is not happy, you know, what are you gonna do, you're gonna have to go back to the drawing board. I think that's, I think this is where design thinking kind of cuts out that miscommunication and gives you, and gets you both on board.

Scott: Yeah, that's some great thoughts there. I mean, I think as well, if you, I would assume you could take design thinking, of course in the, you know, thinking back to the software world and the digital world where we have quite clear cut design and implementation delivery phases. But often, I guess in the rest of the company, things aren't always that clear, necessarily. But I think you could probably take the same, the same principles behind design thinking and again, apply it to any process to really help drive some innovation and so you know, if it's just a process there that that's happening, time and time again, maybe design thinking could be useful, almost like a spike. You know, we spend some time away from our our day to day processes and really analyse what could we do here, you know, let's take it back to basics and really break things down and hopefully come up with a more innovative way of delivering things.

Oliver: Definitely. So, Scott, one thing on my mind then, so how do you think companies find time to look at innovation?

Scott: It's a great question. So it is difficult for companies, you know, we are we are dealing in a in a world now where we have to be lean by default. And the time just often isn't there to spend extra resource on looking at things we can do outside of our core services basically. But as we've said, I think it's an important thing to find the time on. And one of the things that can be a big help in this is looking at your core strategy as a company, your core mission as a company, and actually some of your KPIs as well, and align a bit of a an innovation strategy around that.

I think one of the scary things with innovation to a lot of companies, for one is this big, scary roadmap that takes a long time to do. I think, as you said, you can use tools like agile, you can use tools like design thinking, and just some of the principles behind those to break down a longer term strategy, into small little goals that we can test along the way. And again, it's that thing of having a general direction in mind of where we're going to go to with innovation strategy, and just attacking it one piece at a time. Really, really testing each piece at a time as well, you know, we're not just going to spend time and resource for the sake of it. So I would think with all of that, anytime we're implementing a small change, test it, you know, we should be able to see is it bringing us more revenue? Is it aligning with our core goals? And if it's not, then we adapt, and we learn from that and we move on. And, you know, often as well, that the time money spent here in learning is hugely valuable. Your competitors will be doing this, so it's definitely useful to spend the time doing it as a company as well.

Oliver: Absolutely. I think that right there is, again, is a big word that you've used, or a big thing you've come across, I think is change. I think people are so afraid of it within a business and I think with innovation is a big change. And I think what you've just said there is 100% spot on. The culture of a company needs to be pro-innovation. And I think a lot of companies are very anti-innovation. They always promote that they want to be innovative, and they want new innovate ideas, but I don't think anyone truly believes and I think that is because people are scared of change. Something works, they don't know why they want to change it. However, the whole point of innovation is to make what you have better. And I think that people get too comfortable within a business. I think that it's just people being afraid about innovation itself. And because they know that that's going to bring about a change.

Scott: Yeah, for sure. I mean, yeah, of course, we've you know, we've all been there and I think change is scary to anyone. And I think this is why it's just super important to bring the whole organisation along with that change. As you as you mentioned, you know, culture is important, I think people need to, i gets banded around, but it is so true people need to be able to fail within these these situations and need to be able to try things and test them. Have an environment where they feel comfortable to try things. And of course, change should be made with, you know, in complete transparency, I think the big scary, transformational things are often done behind closed doors. And a lot of that leaks out through rumour and speculation and that's the scary stuff, you know, people start immediately turning to "am I gonna get laid off? What does this mean for my future". And, you know, often it just doesn't need to be on that level.

Especially with smaller companies - smaller companies for me are the real opportunity here. There's so much they can do in terms of looking outside of the box that they're in, and that they've carved out for themselves. And, again, when we align back to to the mission of a company and why they started, quite often you'll see. So you know, taking taking for example, a tax accountancy company. Quite a core service there, lots of experience - and the smaller companies as well are often filled with a bunch of really good people who know what they're doing. And turning some of that into just looking outside of the box, maybe if it's putting your services online, maybe it's talking to your customers in a different way. Just looking outside the box can be a huge opportunity, not just for the company, but actually for the people working there day to day as well. You know, it's an exciting change for a lot of these people. But of course, it's a scary thing without bringing them along for the ride.

Oliver: And this is the thing I mean, you used the example there. I mean, I've worked in companies where they've been using the same system, same processes over and over and over for the last 10/15 years because they're too afraid to change from a different process or to change the software and and they're afraid of the culture change. I think like you said before, I think it's very, it's a very exciting thing for small businesses to do that, because I think it's something that you need to implement early on. And I said before, digital is constantly evolving, it's changing, so we need to constantly evolve and change with it. Especially to be, you know, we need to adapt as a business constantly, to kind of be successful within the digital industry, otherwise, if you're using technology, or if you're using ways from 5/10 years ago, you're seen as a dinosaur already.

Scott: Yeah, it doesn't take long.

Oliver: Especially within our industry I mean, I don't know, 10/15 years ago, Facebook wasn't really a thing. Now, look at social media, it's massive. And you know, who could have known that that was going to be? That was just an innovative idea from one guy who thought, you know, I can talk to my friends over thing 10/15 years later, it's a massive market, one of the biggest marketing platforms you can have, isn't it really. So I mean, it's so important. And I think that us as small businesses, to implement that culture of change and implement that culture of innovation early is critical.

Scott: Yeah, absolutely. And I think one thing, you mentioned, the kind of day in, day out behind some of these companies, you know, going back to how you make time for innovation, a lot of it is just carving out that time quite decisively, day to day tasks that all companies end up just spending so much time on, that constant grind, will of course, push things like creative exploration, just down to the bottom of the pile. You know, it needs to be seen as an important thing, to protect the future of the company, to diversify products, you know, whatever the reason is, you know, it needs to be seen as important to really get the time it needs.

So one other thing I want to touch on, as we mentioned, I think there are a lot of steps and certainly smaller steps that don't need to involve huge levels of change that companies can take, what about as we said, there are lots of companies out there that just don't seem to change. You know, they're stuck in their ways, they're just maybe too big to move in that way. And I'm wondering, Oli, if you've got any tips for those people who are within those organisations, who are itching to get some innovation within their, whether it be department, or the entire organisation, Wondering if you've got any tips that we could throw out there for those people for how they might enact some of that?

Oliver: Yeah, definitely. And I think then the main tip I can really provide, from working within a big company myself, is to think small. Innovation doesn't need to be big. It doesn't. You don't need to change every single process. You're not going to be successful in big business, to try and do that anyway. I mean, I've seen people try and fail many times, I've seen massive transformation projects trying to go through and fail to, it's going to take too long and not everybody gets on board. So I think again, I mean, as most companies, most big companies are trying to change, maybe not to innovation, but change to an agile way of working, maybe this is where you can be sneaky, as a digital creative or within the digital industry yourself, and just try and make those small innovations. And I think that they are things that make the biggest difference. Don't go too big, it's just something little that you could use, whether it's within just a process. Like I said, for if you just want to start implementing design thinking within a small team of say, I don't know, say your'e working within a small team of developers, for instance, you just want to start using design thinking between yourselves, and you think that's going to be a more effective way of doing things.

Just start small, and just keep it small for now. The change to big and innovative changes, Scott, unfortunately, the hard truth is it does come from a hierarchy, I think. But the small changes come from the lower levels within a business and they're the ones that make the biggest impact. And as soon as you start making enough small innovative changes, you'll see that the company will slowly start moving within that way of being more innovative in itself, because they'll start more and more. It's the big thing, you know, more and more people get on board with one idea, that idea becomes a single consciousness within itself and it snowballs, like anything. And then before you know, it could start actually getting a bit of traction within the business. So continuous small, innovative ideas is probably the biggest thing that I would say, for someone working within a big business.

Scott: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I think as another practical tip, I think asking whoever is in charge of kind of your time and resource for time to explore this stuff, even on a short term basis as important you know. Use the business drivers that we've kind of discussed here as a reason and you know, ultimately everything needs to come back to the business drivers, of course, and just getting that in their language and getting some time for it. And just having a culture as you say, of testing this stuff and and you know, it will snowball as you mentioned, Oli. I think, small is good, and it's certainly the start and that's all any company or person really needs to do here I think.

Oliver: Precisely. Absolutely.

Scott: OK, Oli. So what are some of the common mistakes you see, when companies trying to take on change like this?

Oliver: It's following what I've just said Scott, really. So it's more people trying to be too innovative, in a sense. It's people thinking too big. You don't need to have this killer idea that's gonna be completely new, and it's gonna affect the whole business, especially if you're within a big business. As I said, innovation can be a small thing. And I think that the common mistake is people think that innovation has to be a complete change and completely brand new that comes in. It doesn't at all. Innovation can be someone else's idea. Absolutely, it could have already been done. It could already be a process in another business that your mate has just told you about. It doesn't matter. It's still innovative, and if you introduce it to your business, it's still a new idea within your business. It doesn't need to be brand new, out of this world, kind of like innovative thought that's going to change the scale of digital and transformation. It doesn't need to be that at all. It can be something small, it can be something that's already been created. It's just using it in the right way.

And I think the common mistake is people think that when people hear the word innovation, they think it has to be something new, swanky, and completely creative and it doesn't at all. I think that to me, is the biggest common mistake that people make, really. What about you? What do you think a mistake is within innovation?

Scott: I totally agree. I mean, I think one thing that goes hand in hand with that is is not testing enough throughout change as well. Again, going back to these big programmes of change, things get implemented in the wrong way, far too late. Or at least, we realise it far too late. And I think just having a framework and a goal in mind at the start before you factor in any work, knowing what you're going to be testing against, whether that's, you know, I'm going to be testing how many more customers, I get your door, we'll be testing much more revenue we get at the end of the month, having those, KPIs almost, in mind will help you, and every small change you make should be evaluated. And you'll know whether you're on the right path. And if you're not, that's fine. You know, you can divert your costs from there. But it's much better to test and prove that out early in the process, rather than late.

Oliver: Hundred percent Scott, and like you said, a key word there is evaluate. Constantly evaluate yourself, evaluate your work, and, you know, have other people evaluate as well. Get involved and I'd get other people to get involved in your ideas, really. Get people to have a say in your ideas. At the end of the day, that's who you're building it for, you're not building it for yourself really, and everyone else. So the more people to get involved in saying something, you know, the better, because you can find innovation there as well. I mean, you know, someone will come out with a creative idea, and it will start sparking off your idea, your mind, as well, get your creative juices flowing. And that's kind of what you want, really. So definitely, definitely keep evaluating. That's a big thing I'll always say is, send your work out as much as you can. Test it, evaluate it.

Scott: Yeah, completely agree.

Oliver: Innovation is great when it's used. Don't be scared of it and don't make it too big in your mind. At the end of the day innovation can come from anywhere and it can be really small, but it's very important for businesses. Overall, we've been talking about I think it's very important to have that pro-innovation culture and get it, especially within small businesses, get it set in early on. And I think the you know, the key thing for us really and for you guys as well, if you're are starting a small businesses is to get that culture of pro-innovation early, and not to be scared of innovation. Innovation is so important to the development of your company, and it's so important to continuously keep with this ever evolving digital world.

Scott: Yeah, that's a great point.

Oliver: So yeah, just want to say thanks for listening, guys, and we hope to catch you in next episode.

Scott: See you soon.

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