These days, the business world moves as fast as a camera flash. Actually, faster than that, according to the founder and CEO of global performance consulting firm Gap International, Pontish Yeramyan. After all, when the Polaroid camera came on the scene in the mid-20th century, the company enjoyed the fruits of its innovation for years.
“Nobody made another Polaroid,” Yeramyan said. “It’s not like that anymore. It’s imperative now to bring innovation to market fast. And you have to be thinking about the next one before you finish this one.”
Gap International calls this “The Innovation Imperative.”
According to Yeramyan, innovation is imperative for the organic growth of the business. “The minute you innovate, somebody else is going to copy you and do it cheaper,” she said. “And that phenomenon of being replicated has become faster than fast.”
Innovation may be the new imperative in a global marketplace, but it’s not a quick, one-time solution. In order to achieve meaningful results such as extraordinary performance and continuous growth, business leaders must deeply understand the innovation imperative and institutionalize it throughout their organizations.
When innovation is relentless, it isn’t just continuous; it’s also holistic. Instead of relying on R&D or creative types to come up with new product ideas, businesses should embrace the practice of relentless innovation—with every member of the organization working to innovate every aspect of business.
“We have seen that unless leaders systematically innovate in every corner of the business—including supply chain, talent development, sales process, strategic planning, and customer engagement—the organization will not be able to keep up with market demands and competitive pressures,” wrote Yeramyan in the Gap International white paper 21st Century Organization: Being Competitive and Leading Edge.
This is because, as global competition has grown faster and more aggressive, expectations of customers have sped up as well. And extraordinary growth relies on customer satisfaction and loyalty.
“How you engage the customers, how you connect with the customers—how you really thrill the customers—is an important part of a growing business,” Yeramyan said. “We have to continue, therefore, to change and innovate and come up with new products and services the customer will be thrilled about.”
For Gap International, coming up with a winning idea, or even a couple of great innovations in a row, isn’t enough to continually thrill customers. Extraordinary growth comes when relentless innovation is baked into a company.
What does institutionalized innovation look like? For one Gap International client, a consumer household products company, it meant developing an organization-wide obsession with the consumer experience. Continually seeking and responding to consumer feedback allowed the company to leverage the needs of the consumer and launch innovative products every year—in a marketplace where its competitors launched new products about every five years.
Not only did the innovative new products give the company an edge, but also the internal obsession with folding consumer feedback into development of the next product iteration was itself a competitive advantage. It became the secret sauce in the company’s recipe for extraordinary growth year after year.
“The competition may be seeing the product, but they don’t understand what’s happening internally,” said Yeramyan. “They may see the output, but they don’t see the input.”
For that company, the innovation pipeline was fed by continuous consumer feedback and generating new products and categories. Creating a mechanism that generated a continual flow of ideas was key to maintaining ongoing innovation over the long term. So was ensuring that every person throughout the organization was an active part of the operation.
“Relentless innovation requires a new mindset,” Yeramyan wrote in the Gap International white paper, “one that liberates everyone in the organization to become innovators and create differentiation, regardless of position or function.”
THE IMPACT OF INNOVATION
To allow innovation to thrive, Gap International encourages businesses to create a “Breakthrough Performance Environment” in which risk is rewarded, new ideas are encouraged, the entire organization becomes flexible enough to support rapid movement and decision making, and internal alignment allows the organization to continually achieve extraordinary results.
The consumer household products company, for example, not only rapidly innovated its products to delight consumers, but also the innovation pipeline resulted in entirely new product categories. And the outcome was extraordinary: The company overtook its No. 1 competitor in a major product line.
All of this was possible because of a breakthrough performance environment that facilitated such rapid innovation.
“The quicker you can get everybody on board, the quicker the outcomes can be [realized],” Yeramyan said. “The impact can be huge.”
As originally published in Forbes, by Natalie Burg.