Innovation Litmus Test: Is It Creative And Empathetic?

Shane Paladin

Part 5 of the “The Secret Behind the Intelligent Enterprise” series

In challenging times like these, more than ever, businesses seek creativity that turns ideas into business outcomes. Thinking outside of the box and connecting ideas that have not been connected so far are key. Shane Paladin’s thoughts on innovation continue to resonate as SAP works towards its customers’ success.

There’s never enough time, money, and patience to keep experimenting with an idea while the business tries to find the next big thing. And for a lucky few, an innovation does hit the mark and disrupts entire industries and everyday aspects of people’s lives – with the potential to nearly triple their sales and operating income growth.

If your business is unable to reach the level of a top innovator, you’re not alone. Most innovation projects do fail. But this doesn’t mean success is limited to those with a large budget, a deep bench of expertise and resources, or good luck.

Turning innovation into profitable disruption

Near the top of most CEOs’ agendas is a mandate for continuous operational improvement. But no matter how strategic the changes, this focus should not become the primary purpose of an innovation program. Of course, refining processes, data collection, and products and services produce greater efficiency, cost savings, and increased intelligence. Yet, this exercise rarely delivers the kind of growth that businesses need to survive, let alone expand, in an increasingly competitive economy.

Additionally, shattering the glass ceiling of innovation requires much more than a landscape of cutting-edge technologies. Businesses also need three foundational assets that money can never buy:

  • Empowered talent who are given the freedom to envision new possibilities, think creatively, and question everything
  • Empathetic leadership that encourages employees to put their customers, suppliers, colleagues, and partners at the center of innovation, every concept, decision, and action
  • Unified workplace culture that values new ideas, embraces exploration to allow the ability to fail early and often, and rewards success

Organizations that tap into these three “must-haves” are well-positioned to go further than mere continuous improvement. According to research from the SAP Center for Business Insight in collaboration with Oxford Economics, top innovation leaders fuel transformation by investing in digital technologies and creating purpose-built groups that coordinate strategic changes across their business.

The key to moving swiftly and determining the value and feasibility of new ideas and projects early-on is creativity and empathy through an innovation mindset. Then, they can prioritize the right ideas or business plans with a commitment to achieving overall strategic goals faster.

Creativity + Execution = Innovation

Businesses that demonstrate creativity and successful execution are the ones that we call innovation factories. This model integrates often-missed technical considerations as new ideas are created, prototyped, and nurtured into bold changes. However, what’s often overlooked is any consideration of how people are impacted by the new innovation.

The entire innovation experience should revolve around two fundamentally human capabilities: empathetic thinking and creativity. Doing so encourages employees and third-party experts to collaborate, brainstorm, and engineer ideas, use cases, and business scenarios while tapping into feelings, expectations, needs, and desires of the people impacted by the innovation.

This factory-like, yet very human, approach allows innovators to experiment with technology and solve well-defined corporate needs in ways that empower users – both customers and employees. Meanwhile, executives are helping innovators understand the challenges to be addressed, the business opportunities and financial rewards to be chased, and the risks to be considered.

Businesses can help ensure this innovation culture delivers positive outcomes – such as accelerated time to value and improved performance, by following five foundational principles:

  1. Innovate for value: Capitalize on digital technologies to create new business models or processes that meet evolving customer needs – from a human perspective as well as an operational focus on cost reduction and simplification.
  1. Create a road map for value: Establish current and future business needs, perform quantitative benchmarking against peers, and identify high-value transformation initiatives. Then prioritize these projects with an optimized plan for self-funded, outcome-focused delivery, adoption, and revenue contribution.
  1. Architect for value: Conduct a deep-dive evaluation of a process, set of data requirements, and a solution architecture. By highlighting technology dependencies, innovators can better refine business scenarios and build meaningful user experiences.
  1. Design for value: Create innovations that align with executive strategies, mitigate risk, and secure operations. With a detailed scope, innovators can ignite changes that ultimately enhance the user experience, enrich the customer, and contribute to business growth.
  1. Govern for value: Use value-management dashboards and other tools to design projects based on strategic objectives. Measurable performance indicators should also be defined and embedded in the process to audit and track performance and accountability.

Producing innovation success with creativity and empathy

Some innovation programs are governed by rules that may either give people total creative freedom or stifle creativity and empathy.

However, no single rule, technology, tool, or best practice can guarantee innovation success. Forward-thinking industry players are the ones that are fostering an innovation culture to experiment and develop new products, services, business models, and processes that generate economic value for themselves and everyone they touch.

And don’t forget to check every week for new installments to our blog series “The Secret Behind the Intelligent Enterprise” to explore best practices for implementing the latest emerging technologies.

Shane Paladin

About Shane Paladin

Shane Paladin is President of Services at SAP. He is responsible for driving strategy, execution, innovation and business growth across SAP's global services organizations. Shane brings to this role broad experience in executive management, sales leadership, product management and innovation delivery. He has held leadership positions across various SAP business units in North America, Asia, and Europe, heading Global Services Sales most recently. In the start-up community, he held board advisory roles and executive management positions with several successful fast growth start-ups. Shane started his professional career in the United States Army. Follow Shane on LinkedIn.