The concept of innovation makes me cringe a little. I picture a boss walking into a fictional office space, with an animated smile, reminding everyone, “let’s be innovative today.”
Don’t get me wrong, innovation is worth striving for in all areas of business whether it’s product development, marketing, or sales, yet the word innovation seems to have lost its true meaning. So what does it take to make innovation truly impressive as oppose to a total flop?
To start, it helps to know what you are trying to do (other than just being innovative, of course). I read recently that if you want to be innovative at work, you should begin by figuring out why. It sounds so obvious, but I suspect this isn’t always the case. Take bottled water for pets. I’m guessing most dogs aren’t asking for the filtered stuff. More likely, the manufacturers thought it would appeal to the ever-doting dog owner who already cooks up human food for man’s best friend. But realistically, with no real purpose and demand, it was kind of a superfluous attempt at innovation.
You could also ‘be innovative now and figure out why later,’ but not only is that a big gamble, you might be challenged for inspiration if you don’t have target clientele. I’m looking at you Heinz’s purple ketchup.
Or you might produce something amazing for which there is zero appetite to use or buy.
I recently heard in a presentation, Top Ten Technology Initiatives for Asset Management in 2015, by CEB TowerGroup about something called an “innovation gap.” At a basic level, it’s the difference between what people want, but don’t have intention to buy, and what they want and will buy. The concept is interesting, but I think the explanation of the “gap” was oversimplified, presented as “a simple function of the fact that the two inputs (priorities and budget) are out of alignment and can easily be brought together.” I think there’s more to it than that.
In my opinion, the innovation gap is better explained by the difference between functional benefit and emotional appeal. If you are only trying to innovate to impress in a demo – i.e. to sell those things that have high emotional appeal – you have to hope that the actual benefit and value will somehow catch up to the level of appeal. You can’t focus so much on designing a product that delivers the “WOW factor” that you forget to make sure it actually delivers the real benefits clients will feel years down the road. In the end I think it comes down to this: satisfying someone’s emotional needs should supplement, not replace, a functional foundation that your clients will see value in and be willing to invest in over the long term. If you can’t achieve this then you need to ask yourself, “why be innovative at all?”
At Advent, innovation wasn’t the result of a leader telling us to ‘go innovate.’ It happened when we tackled a challenge that we knew mattered, created an environment, and assembled a team that could make it happen. Another common thread was that we – and our clients – felt better at the end of the project than we did at the start because we solved more problems than we set out to work on. The way Geneva handles correcting mistakes is a perfect example. When we worked with one of the largest hedge funds in the world to implement Geneva, they told us that due to one function of the platform we designed differently from our competitors, many people on their team gained 30 minutes of time back each day. The firm benefited by freeing up a meaningful amount of time for its employees, which turned out to be a real morale booster.
By focusing on solving specific problems, we’ve uncovered some of our greatest achievements. Take Advent Custodial Data. Back in the ‘90s we knew clients wanted an efficient way to download data from counterparties. So we solved the problem in a different way – via a hosted, multi-tenant environment (now called the Cloud!). We weren’t necessarily trying to be innovative, we were trying to make it easier for people to use our software, but it turned out to be a massive innovation.
That is what Advent has been doing for over 30 years – creating the kinds of innovation that help our clients thrive. It’s why folks choose us, and more importantly, stay with us.
Robert joined Advent in 2001 and now leads the US product management and solutions consulting groups, responsible for designing solutions on and around Advent’s award-winning portfolio accounting platforms and ensuring that Advent’s solutions continue to keep pace with the rapid change in the market.