By Fundisile Serame
Much has been written about innovation as a cornerstone of business growth and key strategy for competitive advantage, so there is no need to belabor the point. Yet, innovations measured in concrete outcomes that reach the streets and the balance sheets remain elusive to many big businesses and startups alike. There continues to persist an absurdly high rate of mission-critical innovation initiatives that culminate into visions that are lovely to think about, but doable and profitable only in some remote, imaginary world – which Mark Payne, the founder of Fahrenheit 212, calls ‘unicorns’ in his book ‘How to kill a unicorn’.
The lion’s share of corporate innovation projects (over 90%) are not making it to markets. This is according to 45% of 100 chief innovation officers surveyed by Fahrenheit 212, a global innovation consulting firm, in 2014. So, why are firms struggling to transform ideas into commercial outputs? Why is there such low rate of innovation productivity?
Given that mobile technology and social media have have been major drivers of innovation across industries in the last decade, one might expect technology companies to be leading their more traditional counterparts who have used these technologies to penetrate and retain markets. Telecoms companies in particular, facing slow growth, have registered little success in global innovation compared to non-tech counterparts. Five of the top ten global innovative companies in 2015 are nontech companies, according to BCG (2015) survey. On the entire list of 50 companies, 38 (76%) are nontech companies.
It is certainly not for lack of trying that large firms always have to play ‘catch-up’ with start-up driven innovations. In Boston Consulting Group’s tenth annual global survey of the state of innovation, for instance, 79% of respondents ranked innovation as a top-three priority at their company – the highest percentage since the annual survey began in 2005. Neither should it just be expected that companies that show innovation aspirations in their business will get it right by blindly following what successful innovators are doing right. To suggest that there is a general shortage of ground-breaking ideas that can take these firms to new heights would be misleading. What is clear from evidence that has emerged in recent years points to a lack of a systematic approach towards managing innovation efforts.
The reality is that great ideas can come from anyone within and outside the business. Sourcing from outside the organization may involve customers, business partners and, more importantly, leverging an existing entrepreneurship ecosystem. However, great ideas are not enough. There are often fewer barriers to idea generation than idea implementation. Generating ‘great’ ideas can be so empowering that it is easy to get lost in the euphoria of it all and to celebrate ‘failures’. But innovation is not just a ‘feel-good’ exercise. How these ideas are validated and channelled through the organisation to see the light of day is the essence of innovation success, which many firms are grappling with. In many organisations, innovation processes in place are so broken that the excitement that comes with the idea of creating ‘new’ value tends to overshadow the importance of modelling the process and managing the value chain – and that is a management issue.
According to Wazoku, a company that provides innovation management platform and services, effective innovation management requires three things: a defined process model, a focus on innovation, and the right tools to manage. Managers do not exclusively have ideas that would ‘shake-up’ markets the same way disruptive innovations like Uber and others have done in recent years. Innovation is a cross-functional and multi-disciplinary activity that is collaborative in nature.
However, regardeless of the innovation management model an organisation adopts, creating an innovative organisation is the responsibility of management – be it top management team or a subset of it. Executives, as leaders of organisations, need to both inspire and manage innovation efforts. According to Swedish Innovation Management.se, leaders have dual roles when managing innovation, i.e. they stimulate innovative results as they facilitate ideas and initiatives coming from individuals and teams in a bottom-up model whereas they are the primary means for the organization to realize its innovation goals and strategies in a top-down approach. A fundamental challenge is to balance these two roles.
For leaders to succeed in managing innovation there are certain attributes that have proven to underpin innovation success. BCG, in its 2015 survey of global innovative companies, found that many executives identify as critical and interrelated an emphasis on speed, well-run (and very often lean) Research & Development (R&D) processes, the use of technological platforms, and the systematic exploration of adjacent markets. Speed in execution and adoption of new technologies is the major source of differentiation for true breakthough innovators while R&D processes significantly influence the pace of innovation. At least the top 15 global innovative companies, Apple and Google holding the top two spots, are all strongly associated with many of those capabilities. Excellence in the systematic pursuit of these adjacencies is a characteristic common to the most innovative companies.
With that said, an assumption that all organizations face the same obstacles to developing new products, services, or business ventures is a fallacy. The reality is that challenges to innovation vary from firm to firm, and what works for one company may not apply in another’s situation even if they operate in the same industry. Innovation ‘best practices’ are not always ‘importable’ into a company because of the uniqueness of obstacles and challenges to developing new products and services faced by organizations. One company may be great at generating ideas, but lack the discipline to bring those ideas to market. Likewise, a company that excells in excecution, may not have have the ability to source, screen or even decide on high-impact ideas, let alone measure their innovation efforts. Although innovation is messy, fuzzy and complex by its very nature, there is a case for a deliberate and systematic innovation management method that goes from ideas to commercially valuable outcomes. Such a method needs to consider a company’s uniqueness in processes, management and culture.
So, how do firms keep their innovation management processes efficient? Morten & Birkinshaw (2007), in the Harvard Business Review offer the ‘Innovation Value Chain’ framework to address just that. The Innovation Value Chain is a framework for considering existing processes to creating innovations, suggesting that the process of transforming ideas into commerical outputs needs to be viewed as an integrated flow, similar to Michael Porter’s value chain for transforming raw materials into finished goods. The Framework challenges executives to take an end-to-end view of their innovation offorts as opposed to reflexively importing innovation practices which only address a part and not the entire value chain, to ensure all weakest innovation links are addressed.
In the framework, innovation is viewed as a sequential, three-phase process that involves idea generation, idea development, and the diffusion of developed concepts. There are six critical tasks that managers must perform in all the phases, each being a link in the chain, i.e. internal sourcing, cross-unit sourcing, external sourcing, selection, development, and companywide spread of the idea. Along the innovation value chain, firms need to find the strongest links (activities it excels in) and weakest links (activities it struggles with).
This is not to suggest that innovation management gets easier with a framework in place, nor does it seek to bring a hierarchical chain of command similar to that of normal business operations in corporates as this can stifle innovation. The point is, regardless of the framework a firm adopts, there needs to be some application of a deliberate and systematically tailored end-to-end approach to generating, converting, and diffusing ideas that brings sanity to the madness of innovation.
Short courses for ex-mineworkers
THE Lesotho Diamond Academy has introduced mining short courses, particularly to ex-mineworkers, to help them re-enter the mining sector.
The Essential Introductory Courses, which will run for two weeks, will start from June this year. The courses are meant particularly for people who worked in mines in South Africa.
The Academy’s CEO, Relebohile Molefe, unveiled the new courses during the graduation of 18 students last week, four of whom are now armed with Cutting and Polishing certificates while 14 graduated with Rough Diamond Evaluation certificates.
The new courses include the Essential Certificate in Diamond Grading and the Essential Certificate in Diamond Evaluation.
“The decision to offer these courses aligns with the Academy’s dedication to bridge the gap and ensure that individuals with valuable experience can seamlessly reintegrate into the diamond and jewelry industry,” Molefe said.
“By providing short courses, the academy does not only impart essential skills but also contributes to the sector’s growth by reactivating experienced individuals who had lost access to the industry due to no formal documents showing their experience in the industry,’’ she said.
During the graduation celebration, Molefe also unveiled a new sponsorship programme for various courses.
One outstanding student previously sponsored, who demonstrated exceptional proficiency in Rough Diamond Evaluation, was granted a fully funded bursary to further his studies into Advanced Certificate in Round Diamond Brilliantering.
In pursuit of its multifaceted objectives, one of which is to serve as a catalyst for employers in the diamond and jewelry sector to devise skills development strategies, the Academy is set to sponsor four additional students in the upcoming intake starting from February 15.
Two of these bursaries will afford a 30 percent discount on overall fees for two students progressing from Cutting and Polishing to advanced studies in Rough Diamond Evaluation.
Two will be fully funded bursaries to study for a Certificate in Diamond Cutting and Polishing.
Additionally, the institution will extend two fully funded bursaries to the public, fostering inclusivity and expanding opportunities.
The Academy says it plans to announce the search for two deserving Basotho individuals on its social media pages and website.
“Importantly, the bursary programme bears no age restrictions, reflecting a commitment to fairness and inclusiveness, ensuring that opportunities are accessible to all, irrespective of age,” it says in a statement.
The Academy says it seeks “to be a dynamic force in shaping the industry, not just within national borders, but also on regional and international platforms”.
“The emphasis on competitiveness within these markets underscores the institution’s commitment to producing graduates who are not only proficient but also globally competitive,” the statement reads.
“The recent graduation ceremony symbolises a milestone in the Academy’s journey. The success of its students is a testament to the quality of education and the foresight embedded in the curriculum.”
The Academy says its decision to sponsor further education for outstanding performers reflects a belief in nurturing talent and contributing to the continuous improvement of the diamond industry.
The Lesotho Diamond Academy was founded by the late Mpalipali Molefe, a prominent educator, diamond trader and an MP, who recognised the imperative to elevate professionalism in the diamond industry.
Bank hands over uniforms to students
THE Lesotho Post Bank donated uniforms to students at Leqele High School worth a staggering M60 000 as part of its Back-To-School campaign.
The bank said it did this “to keep needy children in school and to promote their education”.
A teacher at the school, Tšepo Semethe, said the uniforms will likely motivate the students to work harder in their studies.
Semethe insisted on giving the bank the names of the students so that it could check their performance at the end of the year.
“At Leqele High School, we work very hard because what we want is excellence above all. To us, hard work pays,” he said.
The bank’s Chief Risk Officer, Molefi Khama, said they are getting old, they will soon retire and Lesotho Post Bank will be in the hands of these children.
He pleaded with the students to work harder.
“This is why we decided to come here to support the students in their education so that when coming to school, they should be confident,” Khama said.
“We are watching you and waiting on you,” he said.
The school’s head prefect, Tholoana Monatsi, said from now on, “no student will be identified by what they wear”.
“(Lesotho) Post Bank made us one and we thank them for that because what we wear cannot stand before our education. We indeed thank you and forever you will hold special places in our hearts,” she said.
A parent, ’Marorisang Latela, said they were very grateful for the gift from Lesotho Post Bank adding that they must also donate to other schools.
Minister of Trade, Mokethi Shelile, promised to go back to the school to discuss how the children could learn in comfortable surroundings.
Mamello School of Special Needs wins prize
MAMELLO School of Special Needs is the first-place winner of Standard Lesotho Bank’s Scaled-Up Pitching Den held at Maseru Avani on Tuesday.
The school has secured a grand prize for an all-expenses-paid trip to Kenya to participate as a finalist representing Lesotho at the Standard Bank Africa Awards.
The school, pioneered in 2020 during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic through Zoom classes, deals with children who live with conditions such as autism, attachment disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) dyslexia, Down syndrome and slow learners.
STKTM Solutions claimed the second-place spot, receiving a commendable M10 000, while Masia Farms secured third place and a M5 000 prize.
Pheello Masia of Masia Farms, thanked Standard Lesotho Bank for backing their vision and that of other Basotho entrepreneurs.
He acknowledged that the bank’s faith in their endeavours serves as a source of inspiration, propelling them to work harder and foster growth within the community.
The event, aimed at fortifying support and fostering regional integration for Basotho entrepreneurs across the African continent, showcased the bank’s commitment to driving the growth of Lesotho.
Malatola Phothane, Head of Enterprise Banking at Standard Lesotho Bank, set the tone in his welcoming remarks.
“As Standard Lesotho Bank, through business and commercial banking, we strive to turn possibilities into opportunities,” Phothane said.
“Lesotho is our home, and we drive her growth,” he said.
His words resonated with the bank’s dedication to nurturing local talent and fostering economic development.
Phothane acknowledged the eight finalists, commending them for their resilience and passion for their businesses.
He emphasised how each entrepreneur had stood their ground, displaying knowledge and unwavering commitment.
The recognition not only highlighted the achievements of the finalists but also underscored the bank’s role in recognising and uplifting the entrepreneurial spirit within the community.
Aliciah Motšoane, founder of Prestige Furnitures and Sentebale Gap Funeral Services, played a significant role at the event as a motivational speaker, sharing her entrepreneurial journey filled with challenges and triumphs.
She recounted her humble beginnings when she was selling bread in high school, leading to the establishment of Prestige Furnitures in 1998.
Despite facing a significant setback after her shop was burnt down during the riots and incurring a loss of M5 million, Motšoane never gave up.
She said business is always a demanding endeavour adding that it needs hard work and a unique mindset.
She urged entrepreneurs to embrace their roots, seek inspiration, and persevere through challenges.
The keynote speaker, the bank’s Head of Business and Commercial Clients, Keketso Makara, said the bank is committed to foster a thriving business environment, highlighting the pivotal role of youth collaboration across diverse economic sectors.
Makara said their mandate aims to empower youths in steering the private sector towards growth, contributing to economic diversification.
Makara urged the eight finalists to actively involve bankers in refining their proposals for maximum impact on economic stimulation and sustainable development.
The bank said the Scaled-Up Pitching Den not only served as a stage for entrepreneurs to present their ventures but also acted as a driving force for networking, collaboration, and collective empowerment.
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