Author and corporate innovation expert Tendayi Viki believes that an idea must first have an impact before innovation can happen.

“When a creative new idea is transformed into a product or service that consumers will buy, it becomes an ‘innovation’,” Viki said at a recent talk organised by Maxis, in Kuala Lumpur.

He said that a lot of things have been invented but, if they haven’t had any impact, then they aren’t innovations. “They are just cool things that go through a phase: they get popular, and then disappear after the hype dies down. That’s the difference between innovation and creativity,” he explained.

“Something that has great impact on society and revolutionises the way people live is an innovation. It can occur not just in technology but also in music, fashion and art,” said the associate partner of Strategyzer.

Viki, who has written The Corporate Startup and The Lean Product Lifecycle, believes that innovation doesn’t just apply to digital startups and large corporations. Everyone can be more innovative as a person and as part of an organisation.

He strongly believes in teamwork. “It isn’t just one person alone who can innovate; it takes people with different skill sets – from design to business to marketing, and more,” he said. Viki also believes that innovation can be learnt.

Born and raised in Zimbabwe, he moved to England at the age of 24 to do his Masters and PhD, after graduating from the University of Zimbabwe. He has lived in Britain for the last 20 years, 12 of which he was a lecturer at the University of Kent.

He was also previously a research fellow at Stanford University and a research assistant at Harvard University in the United States.

“Nobody is born with a genetic gift to know immediately what is going to be innovative. Rather, innovation is a process of figuring out what customers want, whether customers will pay for it, whether it can be delivered, and if it is delivered, whether customers will enjoy using it,” he said.

He added that 99% of the ideas out there are bad ideas that will fail. The people who succeed are those who have persevered and figured things out, such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

A lot of companies that become successful are sometimes due to entrepreneurs that ended up doing something different from what they initially thought they would be doing.

YouTube was a dating site when they first started. Instagram was a location app. Flickr was a video game. The companies that succeeded are those that were able to pivot (move from an idea that doesn’t work to one that does),” Viki explained.

“The internal innovation platform is one part of a continuous improvement effort for us. It gives people a way to express their potential innovations for the company,” says Maxis chief digital transformation officer Rob Sewell. Photo: The Star/Norafifi Ehsan

The key, he said, is to have more ideas in order to increase the chances of success. At the same time, there are many challenges to innovation.  Ironically, one of them is success or, rather, the wrong way of handling success. When people become successful, they often become complacent and bask in their achievements.

“It is when people become complacent that they get disrupted and left behind. One can’t afford to be complacent if one wants to be innovative,” he said.

“A large company that is making loads of money might be taken by surprise when, one day, a kid in a garage creates something that kills their big company. And a person who becomes satisfied and complacent in their job might be surprised to find that someone who is much younger becomes their boss,” he added.

“We need to constantly challenge ourselves, asking ‘How can I get better?’, ‘What’s next?’, and ‘How do I improve?’,” he advised.

Viki said that a company’s people are its greatest asset because a company’s employees are already in the business, working on things. They can see what needs to be improved, and they can see what customers are struggling with.

“There is a lot of creativity and talent within a company, but the challenge is harnessing all those ideas, and having a platform for them to be captured and used,” Viki said.

With this in mind, Maxis has created an innovation pipeline for its team. The digital platform will enable employees to put forward their ideas for new products or process improvement. Other employees can respond to (i.e. “like”) those ideas; selected ones will be endorsed by the management to be tested and implemented.

Maxis chief digital transformation officer Rob Sewell said: “The internal innovation platform is one part of a continuous improvement effort for us. It gives people a way to express their potential innovations for the company, have that strengthened in discussions within the company, and then selected for testing to see how it works, and taken to that impact stage.”