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Overcoming Barriers to Innovation

Overcoming Barriers to Innovation

According to the World Economic Forum, innovation is ‘the process of turning new ideas into value, in the form of products, services, business models, and other new ways of doing things’. Digital education specialists, Wiley, define it as ‘applied creativity that achieves business value’.

We like these definitions because they are relatable – we are all in business to create value. Innovation flourishes in times of adversity, like the common wisdom - ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’ The pandemic saw plenty of it in our profession, as firms and clients redesigned processes and adopted new technologies to enable better offsite working. Some businesses reimagined entire cultural practices to accommodate the ‘new normal’.

But we do not innovate just because we have to. Often innovation provides a competitive advantage. It may enable a business to be first to market with a new product or service.

However, there are barriers. Typically, these include: lack of money, lack of cultural buy-in, rigid adherence to the way we have always done things, aversion to risk, fear of lack of control. Perhaps predictably, all of these are amplified in times of crisis. So what can we do to overcome them?

Behavioral change

Innovation relates to people, products, and processes. Research published in the Harvard Business Review found that innovative organizations exhibit common behaviors:

  • They always assume there is a better way to do things
  • They focus on deeply understanding customers’ stated and unstated needs and aspirations
  • They collaborate across and beyond the organization
  • They recognize that success requires experimentation, rapid iteration, and frequent failure
  • They empower people to take considered risks, voice dissenting opinions, and seek needed resources.

Some of these characteristics are familiar to many of us. The UHY network, for example, places collaboration and working together for the benefit of clients at the heart of its culture across the world. Our member firms’ passionate focus on client needs is a key driver of success for our business.

But what about some of the other things on the list? Does your company behave in these ways? Have you adapted to adversity and emerged stronger, or enabled competitive new products and services by taking risks?

In the short term I believe there are a few organizational imperatives to support successful innovation:

Shake up your process

It is worth remembering that before Henry Ford came up with the idea, nobody had thought of a moving assembly line (or, if they had, they never told anyone). The innovation is believed to have reduced the time taken on each vehicle from 12 hours to 90 minutes. Ford did not invent the automobile as he is often credited with doing; he simply thought of a better way to make it.

Embrace new technology

New technology can be terrifying, especially if what you have always done is working okay, so why change? Nobody wants to think of machines replacing humans. But in our profession, for example, data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning can do all the painstaking number crunching, which gives us more time to add value to clients with advice and insight. ‘Working okay’ is no longer enough.

Review your skillsets

Recruiting someone into your business with different experience or background is one way of embracing innovation, bringing a completely different perspective to a set of challenges. While this can be daunting for you and your staff, it can be a great way to energize a culture that might otherwise become set in its ways.

People can be most innovative given the opportunity. Fostering innovative thinking is good leadership. Acknowledging new ideas and perspectives is key, as is creating a culture of listening and ensuring colleagues feel free to challenge the status quo. The old-fashioned ‘suggestion box’ can be more useful than you think!


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