The consulting industry is multifaceted. From strategy consulting to social media consulting, different types of consultants excavate every part of a business, identifying areas of weakness to minimize and strategizing how to capitalize on areas of strength. One of the more recent branches the consulting industry has developed is innovation consulting.
Innovation, a term that only garnered widespread use at the start of the twentieth century, has become emblematic of modern society. The top technology companies are heralded for their innovation, and the fast pace of business and ever-changing consumer demands puts innovation on the top of every strategist’s list. Even the biggest brands must work to stay ahead of the curve, or they will quickly find themselves being replaced. The companies championed for innovation today, such as Apple and Tesla, are constantly pushing the boundaries of customer expectations. On the other hand, some would argue that many of the big companies that were known as the innovation giants in earlier decades, such as Philips and Nokia, now struggle with innovation despite their focus on innovation strategy. This struggle, combined with the ever-increasing push for organizations to be innovative, has led to the genesis of innovation consulting.
Innovation Consulting:The Approach
Innovation consultants have various ways of approaching innovation consulting. We have identified three primary approaches to innovation consulting:
1. Some larger firms offer innovation consulting as a part of management consulting.
2. Some boutique firms choose innovation consulting as their sole focus, offering expertise in this very niche but necessary area.
3. Still other innovation consultants concentrate on technology and product design, making sure offerings are presented in innovative ways.
Despite the diversified approaches, innovation consulting has faced some backlash. Some have argued that that innovation consulting is unnecessary or can even be detrimental to innovation. Historically, organizations that have championed their innovation strategy capabilities have struggled with innovation itself. Moreover, consultants, who are not embedded in the client organization’s industry, may have a somewhat limited perspective around innovation in a client’s particular industry.
The backlash notwithstanding, innovation consultants today are proving that they certainly have a place in the consulting world. There are a number of ways in which innovation consultants aid organizations in fostering an environment that is conducive to innovation. The role of the innovation consultant is not to create innovation, but to teach an organization how to be more innovative, so that innovation becomes organic.
Here are a few areas of a business that innovation consultants influence:
Having a culture that supports innovation is key. An organization that is bogged down by politics or old-school methods has little chance of becoming innovative. Innovation consultants can look at an organization from an outside perspective to better identify where the problem areas are and apply their expertise to help eliminate those areas.
Innovation relies heavily on creative thinkers, and so hiring the right people is critical to creating an innovative organization. Innovation consultants can identify the type of talent needed and facilitate the hiring process to cultivate the right kind of talent pool.
Businesses that start out as innovative ventures often scale to the extent that they lose their innovative edge. As they expand and focus on many offerings at once, they often reach the point where they must pour their resources into keeping the current business alive, rather than into creating innovative new offerings. Innovation consultants can help businesses construct a business plan and strategy that realigns goals around innovation.
Oftentimes, R&D and L&D departments in an organization are blocked from truly innovating because of the organization’s processes. Silos and bureaucracy will prevent good ideas from being heard and acted upon. Innovation consultants can help organizations create processes that make it easy for new ideas to be heard and adopted and channels for better communication and collaboration around those ideas.
Identify New Markets
In order to stay even with competition, organizations struggling with innovation frequently attempt to imitate their competitors, going after the same target markets that their competitors do. Innovation consultants can help organizations identify new markets that are being underserved, targeting those instead to create an innovative product for a new customer base.