An important element in innovation is the introduction of something new. As the word opportunely implies, also the field of innovation is constantly evolving. Questioning underlying assumptions and established habits is necessary to keep coming up with unexpected ideas. Thus, we decided to write a brief overview of the current trends in innovation that we've identified based on our work in the field – this post gives you a smooth start in knowing what is going on. Let’s explore four overarching themes that can be spotted in innovation right now.
Before going into details, we can pinpoint some factors that are common to these hot topics. Firstly, behind all of them lies our fundamental urge to progress and ameliorate our performance. Secondly, it is worth keeping in mind that innovation is not bound to any specific industry: it can happen anywhere from large consumer goods companies to small volunteer organizations.
1. Collaboration and Co-creation
The benefits of working together are widely known, but even up to these days innovation in organizations has often been tightly dedicated to only certain functions and certain people. Today, we are seeing a change in this practice. Decision-makers have understood that valuable insights and information are often found outside their offices. Thus, co-creation is rather like a new rule than an exception in innovation.
The concept of open innovation is broad and covers many different partners. Firstly, internal crowdsourcing allows companies to access the tacit knowledge of employees, innovate bottom-up and show the staff their inputs are appreciated. Secondly, corporate venturing, mergers and acquisitions as well as deeper partnerships with the firms in your network are good ways of bringing in fresh points of view to the innovation activities and question one’s own ways of thinking. Thirdly, working together with academic institutions is growing in popularity with the rise of the open science movement. Last but certainly not least, organizations are listening to the voice of their customers to better understand their needs and to build loyalty. Engaging both internal and external networks in innovation is here to stay.
2. Renaissance of Creativity
The word on everyone’s lips in the context of innovation is creativity – finding new combinations of existing elements. Here, we are talking about intangible creativity, such as imaginative ideas or ways of solving problems, rather than physical demonstrations of creativity like pieces of art. In today’s complex world, it is a characteristic that recruiters seek in candidates and a topic of a growing number of training sessions. Some, like the World Economic Forum, even say that creativity is one of the most critical skills for the future.
For creativity to thrive, an environment with an open-minded and fruitful culture must be in place along with the tools to support it. To encourage the creativity, the atmosphere shouldn't be too serious, support risk-taking and foster encouragement from others. Although many people believe that creativity is a trait you either have or don't have but in reality each of us is actually born with it and if it's not actively practiced, it may deteriorate. Therefore, it is good to incorporate frequent creative tasks to the innovators’ schedules so they can enhance their creative capabilities on an individual level. When combined with the right culture, a rise in individual creativity across the board quickly accumulates to have a tremendously positive impact. All this improves both the qualitative (usefulness and originality of ideas) and quantitative (amount and frequency of ideational inputs) side of creativity.
3. Innovating for a Cause
As the amount of innovation continues to rise, emerges also the thought that innovators should concentrate more on solving real big problems instead of just building more and more meaningless applications. At the moment, a vast share of the world’s population is excluded from the prosperity and well-being that innovations have brought to many of us. Also, new solutions are needed to cure the issues earlier innovations, such as the combustion engine, have brought with them.
It demands passion and empathy to concentrate your innovation efforts in solving global challenges since it is difficult, time-consuming and expensive and often isn't financially profitable in the short run. These problems vary from environmental problems such as green energy, sustainable economic growth or waste management, to societal issues like inequality, poverty or water scarcity. Acting on these topics is strongly encouraged by many governmental actors and not-for-profit organizations for example through idea challenges. At the end of the day, creating a powerful impact that matters to the world at large will always be more meaningful and rewarding than innovating without a deeper purpose.
4. Technology Makes Innovation Processes Smarter
One prominent hot topic in the field of innovation is naturally technology – especially the ways how it is used to make the innovation process more efficient and effective. Technology in innovation covers many different concepts that all have something in common: the aim to help spare us from menial tasks or allow the human brain to exceed its capabilities.
First of all, established technologies are used to build platforms that enhance the innovation process by for example making related communication more transparent and inclusive. Another place where technology comes handy is building a lean way of innovating. As it can add structure and speed to the innovation activities, it can remove unnecessary or overlapping work. Then, advanced and automated analytics support innovation by mining data to for instance uncover recurring topical areas of discussion and find out where innovation is needed. Finally, machine learning and artificial intelligence can also have a place in improving the innovation capabilities of an organization. These emerging technologies are still searching their place but are already used to perform tasks like objective selection of ideas to be implemented, as well as to analyze and guide the innovation process itself.
Exploring current hot topics helps you keep on top of the innovation game. Organizations that are working on these areas will inevitably have higher chances of success than the ones who forget to follow their time. It is both exhilarating and exhausting to realize that to prosper in innovation, you should constantly update your knowledge about the ever changing trends. Better still, by coming up with a meaningful and novel way to innovate yourself, you might even be the one to start a brand new trend.
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