Innovation in the workplace – are you doing enough?

06 October 2016James Goad

InterviewPiece of MindRetail Financial Services

Simon Hill, CEO and Co-Founder of Wazoku

With innovation being vital to success in every business and with so many of us not quite knowing where to start or how drive it forward, I jumped at the chance to meet with Simon Hill the CEO and co-founder of Wazoku, a company that builds specialist Idea and Innovation Management software.

First things first….and you must get asked this a thousand times… what does Wazoku actually mean and how was it created?  Yes, it is a common question. What language do you think the business name originates from? It is Swahili, I bet that wasn’t your guess, and it means ‘Great Idea’. At Wazoku we are advocates of EveryDay innovation and we believe passionately in striving to make innovation a part of everyone’s role, in every organisation, every day!   

You have an innovation benchmark but in your eyes which organisation (s) are great at innovation? This is a tough question as the evidence suggests that no-one is really great at innovation. We all have a lot of work to do in this area and are really at the very start of building truly innovative organisations. There are some businesses doing some really great innovation, Tesla jumps to mind, and they are certainly a company I admire. However, experience shows me that only where innovation is an embedded cultural asset will it truly thrive and for that I believe you should look no further than Toyota. They have had their challenges, but they have shown a great resilience in a sector where many have fallen and are still a highly innovative organisation. Did you know they implement 1 million employee generated innovation ideas a year?

Is it possible for the large incumbents to compete with nimble FinTech businesses or is it all about collaboration? It is absolutely possible for the large incumbents to compete, after all they have all the things the small, nimble Fintech start-up wants. They have a sizeable client base, are well capitalised and have swollen balance sheets. Their spending power means that they can all do innovation; they just have to be bold enough to step outside of their known world and be willing to disrupt themselves. That is a very difficult thing to do, especially when you have shareholders. I do think you will see more collaboration, but not only between FinTech and more established players, but increasingly across a more diverse set of sectors and you can never ignore the platforms, especially Apple and Google in this. 

What are the biggest blockers for innovations? Culture – a bit of a cliché but it is also undeniably a major barrier to innovation within organisations and it is pretty hard to unblock. One of the challenges is that leaders are not trained early in their careers in innovation and therefore they strive to enable it within the business but do not have the hands-on, practical experience of doing it at scale themselves. It is almost impossible to drive a culture of innovation when the leadership don’t really know what that means or what levers to pull to enable it. We also need to stop flip-flopping on innovation and commit to it as a core cultural competency for the long-term. Otherwise, you get what you ask for.  

What are the biggest enablers for innovation? People – a subtle slant on the above answer and it may seem obvious so allow me to expand on this slightly. I recently gave a TEDx talk in which I shared the idea that we are all innovators. I honestly believe this is critical to the long-term success of the EveryDay innovation message that innovation is seen as something everyone can do and be involved in. We may not all be ideators and entrepreneurs, but we all have a role to play across the innovation spectrum and value chain. 

It’s one thing having an idea but how do you make the dream into reality and know which ideas to focus on? It has to be a collaborative effort. A great idea is only truly great if it can align with the need, pain point or demand that must underpin it. Furthermore, a great idea will never enter the world in exactly the form it was conceptualised in. There are great tools out there, such as our idea management solution at Wazoku, that enable organisations to target ideas against specific business challenges and then provide the tools and structure to help in an open and collaborative space to prioritise, develop and ultimately deliver the best of these ideas. 

You have a large team of people around you – what do you think is the most important thing they must have for you to take them on?  We hire based on aptitude and potential. We look for people who demonstrate they have gone that one or two steps further than others do to really understand what we do and why we do it. We focus less on the CV and more on the person when hiring, there are some things you can teach and some you cannot! 

We recently talked with Ken Segall, the man who put the ‘i’ in Apple and he believes simplicity works – would you agree with this? Would you say it’s best not to over think things? We have a tendency as people and as organisations to make things far more complex than we need to make them. We spend a lot of time talking about simplification and how to make things as simple as possible in all departments. Most of our clients will also run a simplification style innovation challenge, there is unnecessary complexity and red tape everywhere and the more we can help to remove and reduce this, the better. 

Some innovations are big and obvious to the client enhancing the client/customer experience; others are small and behind the scenes driving productivity – what is the balance?  There is a spectrum of innovation that is unique to all organisations and specific to their business cycle, market and competitive environment. Some businesses are facing serious disruption and need to push for more radical or highly-differentiated innovation to transform their business model or face a tough future. Many other businesses are not facing such challenges now, they are not set up to manage complex change and whilst they need to have a view on the medium to longer-term horizon they will focus more on incremental innovation. There is nothing wrong with this, it’s about finding the right mix for the business need and ensuring the right capabilities, processes, support and investment are present to support this.

How was Idea Spotlight created? We saw an opportunity to bring something very different to the market and have spent over 5 years developing, iterating, learning and improving that offering. We knew what we thought the market needed, we designed our minimum viable product (MVP) together with our early customers and have iteratively and collaboratively built that out since it was launched. The product today is a long way from that early MVP, but the ethos and mission are exactly the same. As you would expect innovation is in our DNA and we continue to this day to co-create our product with our clients and prospects and always validate the true market need before we build. 

What’s the brightest spotlight you have been under in your career?  Nice segway! There have been many and will continue to be many more I’m sure. Starting Wazoku was a big step and we have some incredible customers who represent some of the world’s biggest brands and companies. However, being on stage recently for a TEDx talk is probably the brightest spotlight (literally) and one I am pretty proud of as well. 

As you are nestled in the glorious world of Fin Tech, who do you think will be the winners and losers in FS in 10 years’ time?  Impossible to tell. I think there are some incredible new businesses doing amazing things, but picking the winners and losers is almost impossible right now. What I can say is I think that blockchain will play a major role, artificial intelligence is going to shake up the industry and in terms of demographics there is a growing focus on emerging markets and the unbanked population as technology is increasingly opening up these markets to non-traditional players. 

While we are looking in a crystal ball, what legacy would you like to have left when you are smoking your pipe on a Caribbean beach in retirement? Firstly, I can’t imagine being retired, but maybe I will get there. I set out to try and change the relationship between an organisation and the employee and use innovation tools and techniques to achieve this. We are already leaving a legacy, but it’s now about embedding this and delivering true and sustainable cultures where ideas thrive and deliver sustainable, consistent business value. 

If you weren’t doing what you are doing, what would you be doing instead?  I am always doing multiple things. I recently started a new venture called The Future Shapers, I am an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at INSEAD University, I have a book of countless other business ideas. If I wasn’t doing this who knows, but I would be doing something equally rewarding, fun and challenging. 

What is the best piece of advice you have given or received? “Buy a plunger, before you need a plunger.” It works in every situation! 

Simon Hill, CEO and Co-Founder, Wazoku