A vast majority of companies on the planet consider themselves innovative. In tech, every company thinks they’re innovative. However, it’s more complicated than that and innovation is relative with varying degrees. Many companies think they are innovative because at one time, they were. The key to innovation, however, is consistency and adaptability so just because you were innovative five years ago doesn’t mean you still are. A lot of companies believe they are innovative because of one thing. For example, they may use cloud computing so they’re innovative. Wrong. It can’t just be one thing you’re doing to follow a trend, innovation is a mindset and approach to all major decisions in your company. It’s also a willingness to take risks and experiment, two things that frighten most C-Level executives. So let’s take a look at some ways you can determine just how innovative your company really is with some short questions.
Does your company do the same thing it did when it was founded? Does it do it the same way?
If the answer is yes and yes to this, you’re likely not innovative unless you started your company a year ago. Most companies start out with a simple product or service they provide but innovation is making sure they are always delivering that product or service in the best way possible both for customers and for the business itself.
Are employees at your company allowed to share ideas with executive leadership?
This is commonplace in Silicon Valley but in most workplaces, employees don’t have an opportunity to pitch ideas to executive leadership. The fewer voices and perspectives, the worse. Your employees are the future executive leadership and are part of generations that think a different way than you so considering their opinion can help drive innovation.
When was your last major product launch?
Let’s start by defining a major product launch. That is, adding several new features and functionality or even refactoring your entire codebase in a way that provides further value to your customers. Point releases that fix bugs do not count. If the answer to this question is over 1-2 years, you’re not iterating enough on your product. Tech moves fast and if you’re not moving fast, others in your industry most certainly are. Talk to your customers, keep a pulse on your market, and iterate on your product as much as possible to find a greater product/market fit.
Are you doing anything different than your competitors?
This is a big one. Companies are always looking for the differentiators they can point to and say they are better than a competitor. But it’s not always so simple. The products themselves may have very similar functionality and even interfaces. But how does your company handle feedback, support, customer success, partnerships, and sales engineering? Oftentimes it’s these components that companies use as differentiators. This company has better support than this one and they both offer essentially the same product so go with better support. And although delivering the services above is part of innovation, it’s not all of it.
Truly think about your product. Try and drain your mind of all the marketing fluff, buzzwords, and sales terminology you are used to saying when discussing your product. Now go try a few other products in your market and ask yourself, what are you doing differently and better as a product than your competitor? If there’s no answer, create one.
Do you look to competitors as a primary source of inspiration?
This is the Achilles heel of software companies that don’t make it. These are companies led by people who will only do something if a competitor has done it and done it successfully. This mindset is pretty common in the small to the mid-sized software market and is born out of insecurity. You’ll never be innovative if you’re always looking at your competitors and copying them. Believe in your product and your team and use that as inspiration. Always keep a close eye on competitors but don’t do things or not do things because of them. It will limit your ability to innovate in most cases.
How old is your website?
It seems out of place but this is very important. Your website is the first impression the world gets of your company, product, and brand. Your website should get a refresh every year with how fast web development and design trends change. It’s also important to constantly be A/B testing everything on your website so you can improve your website and be a true innovator.
Innovation is a word that gets thrown around a lot to the point of comedy. Innovation is the mindset of knowing that you always have to be improving on all fronts and never get content or arrogant to the point where you know everything and no one else can contribute. You need to foster an atmosphere where your teams feel comfortable sharing ideas regardless of rank. That junior engineer you just hired might have the next best idea for a product in company history. Why not take the time to listen? But truly, if you take anything away from this article, it should be self-evaluation. We say things so much about our products and companies we sometimes forget what is what. Look at the questions above and truly explore how innovative your company and product really are.