endeavor logo

Friday, 02 June 2017 14:04

The 1st critical step to a more innovative business

Innovation for every function

When thinking about “innovation”, one might struggle to see how it applies to their specific area of work. The word is used predominantly in the technology space, but I must say, I find it hard to identify a single thing in business that cannot, or even should not, be influenced by innovation. Innovation really is all about improvements – “How can we do this better?”, "How can we be more effective?”, “How can we grow this business sustainably?”

Certainly, there is a consensus that a company’s product or service offering should always be open for innovation. But innovation also affects how we communicate with customers and how we market and sell products and services (marketing and sales). Business accounting systems, financial controls and reporting (finance) can always be improved through innovation. We should innovate how we buy/make/deliver our products and services (operations, logistics); how we recruit, on board, train and retain staff (talent and human resources), and so on. Is there really, any part of a business that you can ring-fence and proclaim; “Thou needeth not innovate this part of my business”?

The closest I get to finding such a part is those parts of the business that Jim Collins describes as the Core Ideology of the business, i.e. the Purpose and the Values of the business. But even these may need innovation in terms of how we describe them and bring them to life; as long as we’re not looking to fundamentally change them as they form the core of the business.

But where do you start?

So, given that almost every aspect of your business should be open to, and actively seeking change through innovation, typically the next logical question that arises would be; “Well then, where should I start?” The answer lies in goal-setting.

How your business goals can drive innovation

As a business owner or CEO, you should ensure that everyone in the business has an innovation mind-set, i.e. they are constantly looking to do things better than the way they’ve always been done in the past. If they work in the sales and marketing area, they should be innovating how they sell or market, if in operations, they should innovate around operational improvements, etc.

But innovation that is conducted randomly by people throughout the business is unlikely to produce any significant, noticeable result to the business overall, whereas innovation that’s done systematically and aligned toward a goal/goals, will have significant benefits to the business. The important thing about the goals is that at least one or two of them should be Big, Hairy Audacious Goals known as BHAG’s, a term first conceptualised by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book, Built to Last. The difference between an ordinary “goal”, and a “BHAG”, is in the reaction the two types of goals elicit from your team. An ordinary goal will help get everybody aligned in the same direction, which is helpful. But a BHAG, on the other hand, will not only get everyone aligned in the same direction, but after they’ve recovered from the shock of the audaciousness of the goal, they will immediately realise that this is not a goal that will be achieved if they carry on doing things the way they’ve always been done. People will very quickly realise that they are forced to find new and better ways of doing things that have never before been conceived.

There are many wonderful examples of BHAG’s described in Built to Last and available through a quick online search. My latest favourite example is one of Elon Musk’s goals for his Boring Company (the company that Elon has formed to solve traffic congestion problems in Los Angeles by boring underground tunnels to transport cars on high speed skates in underground tunnels across town). Musk has identified that he needs to radically reduce the cost per mile of tunnel bored. One way to do this is to increase the speed at which a boring machine cuts a tunnel. At the Boring Company’s offices, they have a pet snail called Gary, and Gary can move at a speed 14x faster than the boring machines can cut a tunnel. Elon has challenged his team to find ways to make the boring machines move faster than Gary!

If innovation and growing your business is critical to you, then my first question to you is, “What is your BHAG?”


Article by: Andrew Aitken, Entrepreneur and Business Coach at GROW Business Coaching


GROW is a premier business coaching firm that works with over 70 companies a month to accelerate the growth of their businesses, people and profits. They support business owners with training and practical tools that can be quickly and effectively applied to achieve results. For more information please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.grow.za.com. You can also follow Grow on Twitter, @GrowCoachingSA.