CommunicationsPublic RelationsSpeeches

Speech: Regarding “Innovation” (Them) Versus Innovation (Us)

Themes: Innovation as it is understood/defined by others is irrelevant to us. We have always been innovative on our own terms. We do innovation-as-standard, and we have no intention of doing innovation according to somebody else’s defintion or because it has become some kind of trend.

Concept/vision: To reassure staff that they innovate already – in ways that are different and better than the ways of others. To remind managers that innovation isn’t an extra or a plug-in of any kind. In our company, innovation is our culture.

Message: Focus not on the noise but on continuing what is already a successful culture of constant improvement and innovation. We have proven ourselves innovative already. We have a major case study to show it. We know kaizen and for us, kaizen is standard practice. Innovation and kaizen are akin. We are more innovative than others because innovation is what we are and what we do. We don’t need to shout about it. Our excellence is due to our being naturally, systemically innovative.

We don’t want to innovate. We do want to innovate. We don’t think innovation is a good idea. We do think innovation is a good idea. We care about innovation. We don’t care about innovation. We don’t care enough about innovation. We care too much about innovation. We think we innovate as much as others. We think we should be innovating more than others. We know what innovation is. We don’t know what innovation is. We hire enough innovative people. We don’t hire enough innovative people. We like to copy the innovations of others. We like others to copy innovations of ours.

Does any of this make sense? Are any of these statements correct? I think there is some confusion about what innovation means, don’t you? 

You’ve heard the talk about “innovation”. Over the last two years, this word has been appearing everywhere. Some of you might even think it is something new because you’ve heard it so much. Some of you might be confused about its meaning: you’ve heard it so often, you have started to doubt whether you understand it fully, or whether you understand it in the way it is used today.

Well, this is the news: innovation is nothing new. And at this company, we don’t try to innovate. We don’t think about innovation. We don’t care about innovation. We don’t talk much about innovation either. 

No. This company is innovation. We don’t see it as being anything separate to what we are. Innovation is what we do. Innovation is what we are about. Innovation brought us into existence. Innovation is our existence. Our products are not “innovative”. Our products are innovation made real. So don’t think there’s some bandwagon that we should be jumping on, some tune that we should be playing, or some new trend we should be following, and that we are losing out - because we are not. 

Five years ago, we diversified. Many in the industry thought we were making a big mistake. Some said we were risking the brand name. Some said it couldn’t be done – the competition is fierce, the products are specialist and expensive, the customers are conservative, extremely loyal, and fanatics about quality and detail. We knew all this to be true. Nevertheless, we put a range of new products into a market that we had never experienced, a market that is indeed dominated by very big names selling complex products to very fussy customers. But we knew what would sell, what was in demand, what the niche was that the established players were overlooking – and we launched. And we got it right. Five years on, we are a big player in that market. Our R3 product family is a hit with professionals and serious amateurs. This is proof that not only can we innovate with product, but we can also innovate with concepts and strategy, and we can continue to innovate once we have a foothold. We have found a place in a lucrative market, developed a loyal customer base, brought renewed prominence to the brand, surprised powerful rivals, and given the company a reputation as a bold innovator and achiever. 

This is just one of our successes. This innovation did not come at cost to our traditional business either – oh no, it is a new branch from the same tree. And we are taking lessons learnt from this success and currently applying them to new market entry projects. We have always known that we do innovation-as-standard, but now the consumer knows it too. Our suppliers are excited about working with us and new customers await our newest offerings. We innovate internally – through concepts and product design – and we innovate externally, through market and user research. We innovate both in big ways and in small. 

Let other companies worry about “innovation” – they are not innovative but probably need to be. For them, innovation is a novelty, a marketing tool, some way of appealing to newness, or perhaps it is something to impress their shareholders or spice up a few presentations with. 

For us, innovation is permanent, unchanging, and characterises every activity we perform, every goal we pursue, every piece of research we conduct, and every function that we offer. There isn’t a particular innovative activity we perform or a special innovation that we strive for, because innovation is what we do, full time, every day, forever, since our inception, until we cease to be, which we think is no time soon. And we think that because we are all about innovation. 

If we have to be labelled, we would prefer the term “evolving”. That describes us better. We are evolving constantly, and every change we make in the course of our evolution is an act of measured, controlled, designed, responsive, and value-adding innovation. Now we are getting somewhere.

Innovation is not separable from any aspect of our company’s behaviour. Whatever we do, we do with innovation – and not simply for the sake of it.

A few years ago, people got very excited by the term “kaizen”. It was the magic formula, apparently. Textbooks were sold, consultants were hired, managers were sent on training programmes, and experts cashed in. But kaizen simply means continuous improvement. What, realistically, is innovation if not kaizen? We have a culture of kaizen, but you might not know it. That’s because we do it more than we talk about it – just like our innovation. We are interested more in what we get from it than telling the world that we do it – just like our innovation. Since the day you started working here, you have been thinking and acting every day in ways that improve what you do. That's why we hired you. We want people who act that way. So you do kaizen every day, some of you without even knowing it. You do innovation the same way – and are kaizen and innovation not very similar?

At this company, we realise that perfection is a long journey, but we never stop travelling toward it, and every step takes us closer to that destination, distant though it may be. Everything we improve – and we try to improve everything – we improve with the purpose of adding value for our customer and creating efficiency for us and our partners. 

Now companies whose DNA is not stamped with innovation probably do need to think about innovation as something they ought to import or copy, something they ought to have meetings about or advertise. For them, this innovation fad might be good.

But we have no need of it, because not only do we understand innovation, we have never been anything but innovation in action. Our competitors cannot say the same. We never stand still. We move forward on the basis of our strengths, and we use our strengths to build on our weaknesses, and we grow and adapt as a result. In other words, we are evolving, and continuous innovation, continuous improvement is how we evolve. 

So you do not have to worry about being innovative. You do not have to worry about this company being slow to adopt what other people are shouting about as if it is something new. We are leading, and we have been for many years. Before the innovation fad, some journalists, some business researchers, some consultants labelled us as major innovators, exemplars of innovation, but they also got it wrong. They tried to reduce what we do to one word – “innovation”, as if by doing so they can reveal our secret and show others how to replicate it. But they cannot, and this is why:

Ours is a culture of innovation. We were founded on and continue to operate an ethos of innovation. That cannot be copied without the complete reconfiguration and redesign of an organisation from the ground up. Yes, certainly, they can copy aspects of what we do, but whether they can sustain them and truly maximize the advantages of correct application, is unlikely. Our company is built on innovation, and less capable companies, which includes some of our competitors, are only imitating what they can within the limitations of their structures and cultures. In other words, our innovation is difficult to imitate because it is both our root and our shape.

Innovation as we know it is not importable or transferable. Our innovation is not a bolted-on afterthought or something we should try in order to catch up with others. Our innovation is not a buzzword or an experiment. Our innovation is not a project or a restructuring process. Our innovation is not a management-worker relationship or a supplier issue. Our innovation is not a matter of increasing customer proximity or hiring change managers.

Our innovation is our brand, our identity, our culture, through and through. Our innovation is our way, our energy. For us, innovation is so natural and ubiquitous, we don’t have to talk about it. We don’t have to plan it. 

Just as a fish doesn’t think about water, we don’t need to think about innovation because, like the fish and its water, we live in and breathe innovation. And, also like the fish, we fail to recognise the water we live in, simply because it is elemental to what we are.
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