Innovation Distinguishes Between a Leader and a Follower

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I recently attended a lunch and learn session at Transport for NSW about innovation. I thought it was in the top 3-5 external presentations I’ve ever seen at work. It was so good that I absolutely had to share it.

I personally find the word innovation really intimidating.

How do we innovate? How smart must we be to innovate?

My mind immediately wanders to scientific and business brilliance like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Marie Curie. The title of this article is a quote from Steve Jobs.

We heard from Anshika Grover, Director of Innovation Strategy & Connected Health at Optus, where she shared her experience with innovation across a number of industry verticals. She well and truly took the intimidation out of innovation!

The following is not my content – these are all Anshika’s ideas.

Firstly, there is the concept of invention. That is, the process of creating something completely new. It could be a new idea, concept or product.

Some great Australian inventions that come to mind are the polymer banknote, cervical cancer (HPV) vaccines, Wi-Fi and my personal favourite spray on skin (this isn’t cosmetic, it is medical for treating burns victims).

Anshika then gave the definition of innovation as “turning a new concept into commercial success of widespread use.”

Innovating with ice cream

When Anshika shared her career story she told us about the time she worked in Unilever’s ice cream business (talk about a dream job!). They were trying to find new business models for selling ice cream beyond distribution in supermarkets.

I think she told us that ice cream was invented in China during the Tang dynasty. I can’t remember the details but according to Wikipedia there are records of frozen desserts as far back as 550 BC in Persia.

The point was that Unilever didn’t invent ice cream. However, that didn’t stop them from taking something that has existed for a long time and doing something different.

They were seeing that more and more consumers were health conscious, concerned about preservatives and hidden ingredients in food. They were also aware of rising trends in people wanting to make their own products at home.

They innovated by piloting programs like home delivery services in Europe ice cream kits customers could make at home. This was before food delivery services existed.

If you do a quick google of “unilever ice cream innovation” a lot of interesting things are happening today. Who knew ice cream could be healthy?!

So what’s the secret to innovation then?

Anshika says that it’s all about your mindset over the process. Innovation doesn’t have to be intimidating.

She says the secret to having the right mindset is to:

  1. Have a desire to learn
  2. Ask questions
  3. Find answers

What are some practical ways you can boost your innovation mindset?

  1. Upskill using Coursera (I was so inspired I signed up to an innovation course)
  2. Run Hackathons with your product teams (2 day events)
  3. Bring customers to your Hackathon to get direct feedback
  4. Run Hacker Sprints (2 hour sessions)

Her key message that innovation doesn’t have to be intimidating truly inspired me.

When you think about it, this mindset is what makes a great Product Manager. I can think of so many examples of where my product teams have innovated.

It’s easy to get caught up in thinking innovation is grand. That you have to be the next Uber or Netflix. Sometimes innovative solutions are smaller improvements that make a big impact.

Thank you Anshika Grover.

I'd love to hear what you think!