Heads of innovative companies achieve market breakthroughs by listening to their own staff… and by taking risks.

Who better to advise would-be innovators than the head of an innovating company? This was the starting point for a recently-published report by global business consultancy network Ernst & Young, which gathered advice and straight-from-the-horse’s mouth tips from some 45 innovation specialists and heads of international companies which have proved their credentials when it comes to innovation. These experts believe that if a company is to innovate, it has to embrace three adventurous principles. Firstly: “Get ideas from everywhere” – good ideas may emanate from anyone in the firm; secondly: “Learn to fail” – i.e. accept the fact that you will not always be successful; and finally: “Go to market even if you are not ready.”

Quick to market gets you noticed

The third statement above may seem surprising, but it comes from John Waibochi, Kenyan CEO of Virtual City, a major mobile software firm serving the supply chain and agribusiness industry in Africa, who met up with L'Atelier in 2010. He explains that “it’s very easy to come up with new ideas and become obsessed with them - what the product is, how it can be perfected - rather than concentrating on getting it out to market.” Given that time to market for innovative products is currently 90 days instead of the six to twelve months of a few years ago, it’s also vital from a competitive point of view. “You have to get to market quickly, even if it’s only 90% done,” he argues. Even if there’s a fair chance of making a mistake? Navi Radjou, a leading independent innovation expert and strategic consultant based in Silicon Valley, believes so.

Use as many ideas as possible at the risk of making mistakes

Explains Navi Radjou: “The best way to experiment is to fail fast, fail cheap and fail often,” adding that “if you fail fast and online in real time, you can get quick feedback and improve.” Lastly, the report underlines that it's important to involve everyone from all the various levels of the company in the innovation process. The vice president of a US-based maker of clothing, apparel and climbing gear says that companies must not be afraid of “having as many ideas as humanly possible, no matter where they come from,” as, he believes, this “is a critical ingredient to thinking, to ideating”.