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Innovation - not a man's world

24 September 2014

Amantha Imber Inventium

There are pockets of innovation in the world that tend to be male dominated. Silicon Valley is an example, says Amantha Imber (pictured above), the founder of Inventium, an innovation consultancy based in Melbourne.

“However, that doesn’t make innovation a man’s game,” says Amantha, “because when it comes to people’s ability to think creatively and be innovative there is not a single piece of research to support the contention that gender makes a difference.

“Our definition for innovation at Inventium is ‘change that brings value’. The definition is deliberately broad because change can be anything from improving an existing product or process or service to improving an internal process creating greater efficiency or creating a new business model.

“It’s also important to keep it broad because too often change is seen as someone else’s job. What we’re saying is that innovation is anyone and everyone’s job.”

A one-time musician, Amantha was offered a record and touring deal about 10 years ago but was enjoying her PhD in organisational psychology too much to give up her doctorate to tour, she set up Inventium in 2007, having tired of a career in advertising “selling products people didn’t need” and wanting to “do something useful”.

Inventium offers a science based approach to innovation and employs tools that are scientifically proven to enhance innovation. The company, says Amantha, transforms, educates, and solves business problems.

Inventium also validates and judges the top 50 Most Innovative Companies for BRW each year and has, in this role, continued to develop the range and depth of data points by which innovation is identified and judged.

(The BRW top 50 is announced on October 10 and Amantha says that the number of applications this year jumped by 50 percent, making the competition the stiffest so far.)

What helps innovation

Companies that are innovating, Amantha believes, exhibit two distinct traits: they have an appetite for risk taking and they do not try and apply traditional business methods to the innovation process.

“When you’re trying to create a breakthrough innovation, writing a business case is really a big waste of time and money.

“Instead, you should be prototyping and testing the seed of your idea with customers; iterating and iterating and iterating, based in customer feedback, rather than sitting at the computer writing a business case that will obviously stack up in theory,” explains Amantha, pointing out that when it comes to failure this is an essential part of innovating successfully.

Most people would agree that innovation can be a grey area – and it’s not always positive. There’s also a big difference between breakthrough innovation and disruptive innovation or ideas.

Breakthrough innovation is a world first, whereas disruptive innovation involves entering an existing market with a cheaper, lower end, more accessible version of what already exists. An example of disruptive innovation would be the computer market: from mainframe computers to desktops, portables, laptops, tablets and finally smart phones.

Another example might be the new online listing services, such as ServiceSeeking, Oneflare, HiPages and ServiceCentral, which invite customers to submit their required jobs and respond with quotes from suitable businesses: a sort of Yellow Pages in reverse.

Amantha, who has a six month old baby, believes the Owlet a baby monitor device, which received crowd-funding through Kickstarter, constitutes a piece of breakthrough innovation.

“The Owlet is a sock the baby wears which monitors its vital signs: heart rate, breathing, it will even alert you if your baby rolls onto their stomach monitor. The sock connects with your smart phone to provide you with the monitored results. The company is in the testing phase and is hopeful of a release in early 2015.

“The Owlet crushes the assumption that you can only monitor and measure a baby’s vital signs hooked up to expensive medical gear or with someone actually sitting in the room watching the baby,” Amantha explains.

She is equally enthusiastic about The Westpac Innovation Challenge with BlueChilli, which is asking early stage start-ups to “reimagine the future for businesses operating in the Property & Real Estate sector” and offering $40,000 to fuel the kick start. The challenge closes October 19.

innovation challenge Westpac

What are the key drivers for innovation? Inventium believes three foundation drivers are essential if an organisation is to be truly innovative in a sustainable way and not just a one-hit wonder.

  1. The first of the three foundation drivers is having a clear process for innovation. If I were to come and work for you and I had a great idea what would happen? Where could I submit it and what is the process for short listing ideas and prototyping ideas and testing them and then implementing them and where is the feedback?
  2. Secondly, you have to have capability for innovation. Training people and the company to become better at innovation is important.
  3. Thirdly: there must be a culture that supports innovation. The workplace needs to be intellectually stimulating. It needs to be a place where debate and discussion is allowed space and welcomed and there needs to be acceptance and support for innovation from the top down in the organisation.

Once these first three are embedded, the next steps are:

  1. Develop a clear innovation strategy that aligns with your business strategy.
  2. Resource innovation in terms of time, money and people.
  3. Make sure your people know that innovation is part of everyone’s role not the domain of someone else or R&D.
  4. Measure innovation – not just the financial reward but the process and the steps within the process itself.
  5. Communicate a clear message around what innovation means.
  6. Position your organisation as a thought leader in innovation and around what innovation does.