Innovation requires leaders with vision, guts and the means to get going 

Evelien Bras 

In my view, there's really no need to discuss again why innovation is necessary. We cannot block the access routes, cracks, windows and doors to stop the so-called "digital transformation" from reaching our homes and offices. Give it a few years, and each industry will have become either a tech industry or a tech-supported industry. To ensure future success, entrepreneurs will have to draw on a different source. It's common sense, really: try to keep the pace if you want to stay in the race. If your clients, suppliers, employees, the legislative requirements, perhaps even all at once, innovate the way they work, then you should too. 

Where do you start innovation as an entrepreneur? 

My advice is to start out close to home and innovate yourself. Innovation is not a task that can be delegated to someone else, no matter how competent or well-meaning they may be. Chances are that projects will never fully lift off, or stay so limited in scope that they barely have effect. Innovation is synonymous with "doing something you've never done before". And so you have to face challenges you've never encountered, or had even heard of, before. They often call for unusual decisions that come with risks and may be costly. These are decisions that you, as an entrepreneur, make yourself or (in hindsight) wish you could have made yourself. This makes you the one in charge of innovation. With the guts to boot! 

My eleven-year-old son said the other day: "Mum, innovation is as big as the whole world." "That's right!" was the proud mum's answer. Stepping off the beaten path can literally lead you anywhere. The trick is to find a path that works to your benefit. A direction in line with the future behaviours and expectations of your clients, employees, suppliers and possibilities. What will benefit your business? Technological innovation, business model innovation (servitisation of existing products, for instance) or perhaps social innovation? And where does digitisation come in for you? Will you be reforming your own organisation or proposing innovative solutions to others? How can you get everyone on board, and to which extent have your clients and competitors changed their way of working? Will you take innovation step by step, or choose a disruptive approach? And what are the odds of you "disrupting" your way out of the market? 

You need a vision 

You won't make it to the implementation stage without one; you'll simply lose direction. Without a vision, you'll be bounced around like a pinball inside a machine, at the mercy of whatever the day throws at you. This vision needs to be translated into a plan. And this is precisely where I see it going wrong. An innovation project is like trying to hit a moving target. This target usually consists of a combination of commercial, technical and ELS (ethical, legal and social) aspects. Because there are so many things to take into account, and they can be correlated in unexpected ways, it's necessary to allow some room in your plan for mid-process alterations. This is why an innovation plan is not comparable to a regular project plan. You need to let go of the Key Performance Indicators that are usually applied in regular business. Both tactically and operationally, you need to acquire gazelle-like agility and swiftness, while strategically and on (company) policy, you need to firmly stand your ground with elephant-like strength. 

Last but not least: the means 

Fortunately, nowadays, finding the budget to fuel innovation is generally not really an issue anymore. Except in bureaucratic and hierarchical structures that assign budgets years in advance according to knowledge from the existing business. The challenge is: allow innovations and processes the means to grow. 

Leaders, vision, guts and means: meet the demand for innovation 

In doubt? Come see Novel-T. Novel-T is building an innovative ecosystem and offering companies and their innovative business cases the support they need. We not only have knowledge institutes the University of Twente and Saxion to back us up, we have an extensive business network that we can build on, have great expertise in the area of innovation and can count on support from local authorities. I have a bunch of motivated colleagues, each passionate about innovation. Challenge us! 

Evelien Bras joined Novel-T's management team as of 1 March. Her focus in this role is on promoting innovative economic activity and driving local implementation power, in order to achieve innovation for the region. 

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