Understanding how optimisation and innovation work together in business is crucial. They are not isolated concepts but intertwined processes, each contributing to the other's success. Optimisation can lead to innovation and vice versa.
I’ve been around business optimisation for over 30 years and in almost every role optimisation has been the requirement created by previous innovation or has led opportunities to innovate. When you take a step back it’s easy to see how each process feeds into the other.
To add a twist to this, I’ve also found that optimisation benefits from innovative thinking lest it becomes solely a clinical exercise in efficiency generation, and optimisation at its best is everything but clinical and much more than simply creating efficiencies. I’ll leave that for another time though.
Optimisation's Role in Leading to Innovation
Optimisation involves making existing processes, products, or services better. It's a stepping stone to innovation in several ways:
- Foundation for New Ideas: By streamlining current systems, optimisation provides a stable base for new ideas. It's like cleaning up and organising your workshop before starting a new project.
- Resource Efficiency: Optimisation saves resources, which can then be invested in developing new ideas.
- Problem Identification: While improving existing processes, organisations often stumble upon deeper issues or new needs, sparking innovative solutions.
- Customer Feedback: Optimisation often involves incorporating customer feedback, which can reveal unmet needs or desires, leading to innovative product development.
However, optimisation has its limitations. It can sometimes lead to a narrow focus, where companies become too comfortable with minor improvements and miss out on big, innovative leaps. This is where the need to pivot towards innovation becomes clear.
Innovation's Role in Encouraging Optimisation
Innovation, the introduction of something new or significantly improved, can seem like a giant leap compared to optimisation. Here's how innovation encourages further optimisation:
- New Challenges: Innovative products or processes often come with unforeseen challenges, requiring further optimisation to refine and improve.
- Shifting Markets: As innovation leads to changes in market demands, there's a continuous need to optimise these new solutions to stay competitive.
- Feedback Loop: Innovation brings new customer feedback, which is essential for subsequent optimisation cycles.
Yet, innovation is alsonot without its pitfalls. It can be risky and potentially resource-intensive, and not all innovative ideas are successful. Sometimes, an innovation might be ahead of its time or not meet market needs, necessitating a return to the optimisation stage to realign with customer demands.
The Reciprocal Cycle
The relationship between optimisation and innovation is not linear but cyclical, and as I indicated above they are sometimes intertwined. Each process feeds into and enhances the other:
From Optimisation to Innovation: As businesses optimise, they accumulate resources, knowledge, and insights, which can spark innovative ideas. However, there comes a point where further optimisation has diminishing returns, signalling the need for a fresh, innovative approach.
From Innovation to Optimisation: Once an innovative idea is implemented, it's rarely perfect. The subsequent need for refinement and improvement leads back to optimisation.
This cycle ensures that businesses do not stagnate. Traditional optimisation keeps operations lean and effective, while innovation pushes boundaries and opens new opportunities. The best kind of optimisation is that which utilises innovative thinking and that requires an innovative mindset, something that not all leaders have and many who do have, do not dare to exercise.
Balancing the Two
Even without having an innovative mindset and exercising it, a business that consciously embraces the cyclical nature of traditional optimisation and innovation will find themselves ahead of others in their industry. In this context,. the key for businesses is to balance optimisation and innovation. Relying too heavily on optimisation can lead to a lack of creativity and an inability to adapt to changing markets. Conversely, constant innovation without sufficient optimisation can lead to chaos and inefficiency.
Businesses should aim for a culture that values both processes. Encourage teams to optimise existing workflows and products, but also allocate resources and time for exploring new ideas. It's about finding the right moment to pivot from one to the other: optimise until it's clear that incremental improvements are no longer sufficient, then take the leap into innovation. After implementing innovative ideas, focus again on optimisation to refine and improve.
Optimisation and innovation are not standalone processes but deeply interconnected. Each serves as a catalyst for the other, creating a dynamic cycle of continuous improvement and breakthrough. For businesses to thrive, understanding this relationship and mastering the art of pivoting between optimisation and innovation is crucial. This cycle ensures that businesses remain efficient and effective while also being adaptable and forward-thinking, ready to meet the challenges of an ever-evolving market landscape.