Innovation, an industry buzzword, is both essential and elusive. For me, innovation means something compelling, a differentiator, both creative and dynamic, and sometimes even revolutionary.
But there’s more to innovation than coming up with an avant-garde idea. It’s how to transform that idea into a reality—a profitable reality—that’s the hard part.
Every business defines and cultivates innovation differently. As part of our Accelerating Innovation Series, here’s a look at how two very different companies, Electrolux and Hewlett-Packard, approach innovation.
For the last half a century global appliance manufacturer Electrolux has been losing out to giants like GE and Whirlpool. The Sweden-based company badly needed a facelift, a way to establish its brand globally and distinguish itself from bigger competitors.
To do this Electrolux surveyed consumers across the globe—focusing on under-served segments in particular—to find out their needs, tastes and personalities. It then floated the results past its employees and stakeholders who were encouraged to think outside the box, and share creative ideas.
“We engage every level of the organization around innovation, whether that’s around products, how we go to market, or in the customer experience itself,” Electrolux CMO MaryKay Kopf told Forbes in a recent interview.
“It’s all about the people. If there’s only one thing you can change, it’s the people. And that means getting the right people in the right jobs, inspiring them, making sure they know what the vision is, pushing them to grow and driving collaboration in the culture.”
This people-first approach to innovation has brought Electrolux from small-time to cutting edge. It’s not only innovated around its products, but it’s also overhauled the entire shopping experience in both its brick and mortar stores and online. Its stores are redesigned to be more users friendly and inviting, as well as providing an authentic brand experience for shoppers. It also hosts traveling designer showcases to add interest and excitement to the shopping experience.
“If you’ve shopped for appliances lately, you know the stores can show you a sea of sameness. It’s a bunch of white boxes. So one question is how we can make our products look different? How do we change that sea of sameness?” Kopf says.
In addition, Electrolux redid its website to make the online shopping experience more intuitive and engaging and it’s working on ways to improve the continuity between its online shopping and brick and mortar store experiences so that consumers can research Electrolux products online and then come into the store and easily make a purchase.
But creating a people-first environment, where innovation is encouraged and mistakes are tolerated, can be a scary prospect for manufacturers trying to meet their bottom-line.
By establishing different development process for each of its product, Hewlett-Packard has crafted an ingenious way to accommodate and encourage innovation in real-world terms.
HP defines three distinct processes for new product developments in three distinct business contexts:
Emergent. Lightweight, fluid process allows rapid exchanges of product concepts and prototypes with customers. It aims to quickly identify new sources of value and support start-up developments within technology frontiers such as cloud computing.
Agile. This evolutionary process works best for products in growth markets, such as blade servers. Frequent design-build-test iterations, including milestone releases and beta versions, let customers help continually re-prioritize the new product’s features.
Efficient. This traditional process focuses on lowering costs and improving features and capabilities for products in mature markets – e.g. desktop PCs. It’s a well-defined stage-gate process with clear entry/exit criteria, explicit development tasks and deliverables, and rigorous monitoring and reviews – all done tightly to plan.
Explore more ideas on driving product innovation at our resource center.