Lightbulb on a background of hand drawn illustrations representing innovation

Innovation – one word, infinite possibilities

When you think of the word ‘innovation’, what immediately springs to mind? Big name brands behind our smartphones and other smart devices? A good concept but something that just ‘isn’t possible’ in your field? Just another tedious and overused business buzzword? No matter how you see it – the reality is that real innovation is critical in modern business.

We’re going to try and break down the vague word that is ‘innovation’ and understand how we can apply it to our own circumstances.

So, what is it?

Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean inventing a product or improving a process, as is the common misconception. By definition, it is ‘making changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products[1].’ It doesn’t have to be a lightbulb moment (unless you’re Thomas Edison), it can be slow-burning and incremental, as long as the result is a new way of creating value for the business. It can apply to your business model and its processes, your product / service line, your brand, how you engage with customers – any aspect of your business can be innovated.

Business theorists contend over how many different types of innovation there are. After a quick web search, you can count up almost 20 different kinds, but a common way to categorise innovation is by referring to the Innovation Matrix. This details four specific areas of innovation:

  1. Architectural – combining technological and business model disruptions. Taking an approach/ technology/ process/ lesson/ skill from one field and applying it to another eg film camera manufacturers entering the digital market.
  2. Radical – the ‘invention’ of new industries/ technologies/ applications for example biotechnology in medicine, or the smartphone in communications. This is purely technological and ‘reinvents’ the way things are done.
  3. Incremental – smaller tweaks and enhancements across multiple areas that result in substantial improvements whilst fitting in with the existing business model and competencies eg tech companies continuously developing more powerful processors.
  4. Disruptive / Stealth – creating a new value network i.e. an alternative way of offering value in a market. The polar opposite of radical innovation. For example, video on demand and streaming services overtaking the DVD rental market.

Credit: Callan Hough (https://ideadrop.co/different-types-of-innovation/)

You may have also heard of social innovation, sustainability innovation, entrepreneurial innovation – the list goes on. Some of these types of innovation are limited to sectors. For example, social innovation is most commonly seen in non-profit and government sectors; this is why it’s useful to consider the Innovation Matrix, which is valid across all business.  

When considering the field of veterinary science and care, it certainly feels as though we’re in a time of impending innovation. Of course, Covid-19 has had a huge and unexpected impact on the way we live and do business, however this change was already imminent. People are busier, have more access to information and have more pets than ever before – and this certainly influences pet care. How the industry adapts to these consumer demands will almost definitely define the future of veterinary practices nationwide.

What are the benefits?

It may seem a silly question to ask, but what benefits come from innovation? Everyone knows innovation is good – it generates more value, more money, creates new ideas and so on – but what is the further breakdown of benefits?  

Innovation increases employee productivity and managers who promote an innovative environment see increased value. People tend to perform better when they are encouraged to push boundaries and think outside the box. It empowers people to have a positive attitude to working rather than toeing lines and checking boxes. Employees are more motivated, creative and are stronger team players, especially when their work is recognised. An innovative workplace certainly enriches workplace culture.

Fostering innovation

Innovation is something that can and should be fostered in all workplaces. Managers should encourage innovation from their staff in all aspects of business operations because successful innovation drives growth (both financial and personal). One should be receptive to new ideas and changes in custom, whilst also effectively managing the day-to-day processes and tasks which need to be completed for business success. It’s a fine balance.

  • Be open minded – be receptive to fresh ideas as this is where innovation usually arises.
  • Think laterally – indirect and creative approaches can surpass traditional step-by-step methods.
  • Expect and accept mistakes along the way – it’s not all going to work, and credit should be given for those that try, even if they fail.

An innovation strategy

Much like all aspects of business, you need a strategy to innovate effectively. If you have all the ideas but no method of realising them, then your innovation will go to waste. Make sure you clearly define and clarify your objectives and priorities, how your different departments will support this, what your budget will look like, timelines, milestones, potential problems etc. Just like any changes to the norm, there should be a plan in place to guide you.

Telemedicine, stem cell therapies, pet health monitors, app-based pet care management, pricing initiatives, AI-supported disease management: these innovations are happening in the sector and will only continue to drive further innovation as the landscape of animal care changes.

Further reading:

https://ideadrop.co/different-types-of-innovation/

https://hbr.org/2015/06/you-need-an-innovation-strategy


[1] https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/innovate

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