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Innovation – buzzword or business essential?

If you spend enough time in the business world, you’re sure to hear the word ‘innovation’ thrown around quite a bit. We’ve investigated why it really matters for Australia’s business owners.

Innovation boom

With the launch of Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘ideas boom’ in 2015, the former Prime Minister really pushed ‘innovation’ on the national agenda. The $1 billion program aimed to promote business-based research, development and innovation.

The objective of his ‘innovation agenda’? To create a modern, dynamic, 21st-century economy Australia needed, according to Turnbull.

Since then, ‘innovation’ has become a well-worn buzzword and the subject of countless TED talks, awards programs and seminars. As the concept of innovation has gained wider currency, many smaller business owners have been left wondering how exactly it applies to them and their enterprises. Is the pursuit of new ideas and processes essential to their success, or will ‘innovation’ go the way of countless other now-forgotten fads?

‘Yes’ to the former, says organisational culture specialist Ross Judd, author of Cultural Insanity. Seeking out ways to do things smarter, faster and better through innovation is the key to survival in a fast-changing world, for Australian enterprises of all shapes and sizes.

Driving change in a very traditional game

The urge to shake up the status quo is what drove Gen Y entrepreneur Ali Terai to establish Future Golf. The online club enables members to play rounds and events at major courses around Australia, with monthly subscriptions starting at as little as $24.95.

Its business model differs significantly from the traditional private golf club arrangement, which requires players to spend a four- or five-figure sum on annual memberships.

The Future Golf offering has found favour with younger and novice players who want to enjoy what’s often seen as an expensive, older person’s game at affordable prices, without locking themselves in.

This innovative, fresh thinking earned Terai the 2019 Telstra Business Award for a small and succeeding business. “We are changing the face of golf by focusing on flexibility, diversity, choice and accessibility – transforming an ‘old’ game with a new approach,” he wrote.

Proceeding with purpose

It’s a great mistake to assume innovation can be encouraged or fostered in a vacuum, according to Judd. If, like Future Golf, you’re clear about your business’s purpose, innovation is likely to occur more naturally as you strive to meet customers’ needs and exceed their expectations.

However, pressuring your team members to come up with bright ideas or sending them to innovation workshops to learn how to get their creative juices flowing can have the opposite effect.

“If you want to kill innovation, walk around telling people they have to be innovative,” Judd notes. “Very few people can be innovative on command and truly innovative ideas only become a reality if they are expressed in a culture that values them.”

“If you want to see more innovation, you need to foster an environment that supports creative ideas, outrageous suggestions and the exploration of ‘off-the-cuff’ opportunities.”

A well-supported team is more likely to innovate

The positive effect on the bottom line is not the only reason innovation is important. It’s also an excellent barometer for the health of your workplace.

“To achieve genuine innovation, people need to feel free to speak up and present their ‘crazy’ ideas, confident they’ll be acknowledged and explored,” Judd says.

Cultivate an environment driven by fear and conformity and there’ll be precious little innovation going on. Instead, employees will be more likely to play it safe. They will continue to do things as they’ve always been done, rather than run the risk of being penalised if a suggestion or experiment misses the mark.

“Innovation is a great indicator of whether you have an open and honest workplace culture, based on trust and support,” Judd says. “If you have that, you can achieve anything.”

So, if you’d like to see your business flourish further in the future, keep an open mind and encourage your team to think outside the box. It’s time to embrace innovation.

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