The path to creation is through collaboration – that’s the yoga teacher in me speaking, but it’s true and most innovators will subscribe to this perspective. The more we work together, the more able we are to initiate bigger change. Notably, social innovation and making a positive impact beyond the commercial four walls we work within, let’s face it, is what really matters. Major social challenges need inter-generational, inter-industry collaboration. Perspective. Dialling it back down again – business challenges need this perspective too.

So what about getting closer to the other communities around your business – your suppliers, your partners, your customers – hell, even your competitors – how else can you make a real social and economic shift?

Many businesses struggle to move past the transactional relationships they have and build proper connections with their communities. Much of this stems from fear – of not being able to completely control the interactions, of not being able to commit to outcomes. Dare I say it, sometimes this is really the fear of becoming aware of what the customer you’re serving might really want… and having to change to accommodate.

It’s time to let go a little and balance openness with control. There are ways to control and manage those interactions which are just a little different to what you may have tried before.

There is a lot of disagreement about whether innovation can happen inside or outside – see my first Future Shapers article, innovation starts at home. Think differentiated innovation can only happen externally where people turn to labs, buying in new capabilities etc. I believe there’s room for it all, and indeed that you need it all to shift your organisation to a position of dominance in terms of competition. Ultimately you need to balance your focus and your innovation mix, and you can do that in a way which works best for your business, starting wherever you want. Perhaps internal marginal gains are what you need to free up resource, improve operational excellence etc, and you want input from partners to look at the bigger shifts you can make in industry.

There are different paths for different organisations.

Innovation can be a complex beast at the best of times, so why not take a simple approach to it which drives value beyond innovation?

To innovate effectively and engage all the communities you want, you need a systematic approach to doing so. At Wazoku we do this through our Innovation Launchpads – where we have clearly labelled approaches to getting value from all your communities in one place. First let’s segregate them out, very simply, to three audiences – workforce, customer, and ecosystem. There, not too painful was it? Don’t worry, we know there are nuances…

There’s a whole realm of possibilities of what you can do with each of your communities and after having worked with many organisations on engaging many types of communities, we can say we know the key approaches to those communities which you can start working on now.

When engaging your workforce there are three formulaic approaches you can take. Maximise cost savings and efficiencies by running ‘on the job’ challenges which focus on optimisation and continuous improvement. Returning to the need to balance your innovation mix internally so your workforce feels part of the future of the business and not just consigned to ‘on the job’, we also suggest strategic challenges and competitions. With these you are killing several birds with few stones which, in the world of change and speed, is important. The strategic challenge approach lets your business know what’s important and what the focus is they should be working towards, as well as generating ideas aligned to strategic goals. The competition works as an inspiring, fun activity (fun is key to keeping people engaged) which serves as a very strong internal branding exercise. Our customer, Aviva, is a great example of this, regularly running ‘Customer Cup’ competitions where the workforce certainly knows the customer is key and are tasked to

focus on how they can better what they do for them, all in a fun environment.

For your wider working ecosystem you can capitalise on the way you engage our workforce and take the same approaches to suppliers and partners – scalability and repeatability. Again, Aviva have run a competition to their partners focussed on the customer. Of course, your ecosystem extends beyond this and you should seek to grow it, so having the input from your labs and networks managed in the same way starts to reign in what are seemingly disparate approaches to a place where we see them deftly managed by the same tool sets.

Finally, businesses all over the world strive to have true customer closeness. Efforts are often focussed on feedback, finding out if they like our products and what we’re trying to do as a business. Now we’re starting to see more and more FMCG organisations ask for ideas about new flavours and ways to do different things with products. You can still go beyond this in a safe way – asking customers more strategic questions about your brand you can still use the approaches we’ve discussed. Much of the control comes from putting ‘wrappers’ around each engagement and expectation setting, through competitions for example, so your customers and any other community knows how to interact with you.

With all of these, it takes time for your programmes to mature and it’s unlikely you’ll attempt to do them all at once. When you’re launching an innovation programme the business needs to learn and work on how they’ll manage then influx of ideas and make sure they’re of value – see David Larkins’ recent article on this for getting it right internally. With Innovation Launchpads we provide an innovation roadmap for your business to know how it can bring each community closer to the business, generate high value ideas from each and manage the interactions in a way that makes sense for you.

Written by Nicola Darke