Trends & Insights

Becoming Innovative Starts with Changing Your Thinking

Robert Gavazzi
Sr. Director, Global Innovation

As the Senior Director of Global Innovation, I have great visibility into the process of innovation at The Hershey Company. The hard work of a dedicated team over the last year has led to the award-winning launch of Hershey’s Gold, and our most recent recognition by Forbes as the world’s top 100 most innovative companies. While many of our partners and other creative, large businesses have established processes and teams for innovation, we think any employee at any level of an organization can be innovative. You don’t have to work in the technology industry or the R&D department to be an innovative thinker. Innovation is a mindset and a way of approaching new ideas and solving problems that transcends industries and job descriptions. How do you become innovative, you ask?

Think in terms of problems to be solved

Innovation doesn’t just happen. It is a result of a problem or tension being met by a solution. In addition, innovation cannot be solved in a vacuum. It requires a deep understanding of consumer behaviors and the problems that need to be solved. Consider the “jobs to be done” theory of innovation within the developmental process. It sounds sophisticated, but it’s simple. “Job’s Theory” focuses on the “job to be done” instead of the “product to be sold.” Consumers “hire” and “fire” goods and services based on criteria they have developed – usually around solving a problem (e.g. I’m hungry and lunch is two hours away). It starts by asking, would a person “hire” our product for the “job” they need it to do and “fire” what they are currently using (e.g. hiring a snack to hold me over until lunch)? It’s based on solving the problem by developing a solution. Too often, companies start with a final product and work back. This is usually, not always, a recipe for failure. By ensuring that innovation starts with a consumer-defined problem first, you improve the odds of breakthrough success.

Celebrate ideas and foster fearlessness

Innovators are advocates for change that create excitement about ideas and encourage employees of all levels to be bold. It’s about changing things up – trying new approaches that yield a variety of results. Most of these ideas start small but can work their way into significant shifts. We often talk about getting caught in ‘rivers of thinking’ where past actions are more comfortable and involve less work. Being an innovator means being a champion of change and not being afraid to try a new or novel approach. We have all had our share of missteps – it happens in life and at work. Creating an environment where people can learn from those missteps, accept them and move on creates a culture of transparency and trust that breed fearlessness. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not innovating. The greatest changes come from mistakes.

Take small risks

To remain competitive, you must be a disruptor. Channel your inner entrepreneur by focusing on agility, adaption and acceleration. Think before you act but move fast. Get used to things not always going according to plan by failing often and cheaply. Set yourself up to fail forward. And know, not every idea is the next ‘great’ idea. The “all or nothing” approach around one big idea may hinder your success, so take small risks on ideas that drive incremental growth and require smaller investments.  Take advantage of small wins and build on them. This process might lead you to an idea that requires a small risk to win big. Act with the right sense of urgency and don’t let failures limit your risk-taking.

Solve a business challenge

Finally, make sure that you aren’t losing sight of the business challenge or need. Ask yourself, “what value will this deliver for our business, portfolio and customers?” Value creation is a benchmark for evaluating what is truly “innovative” for a company or an industry. Innovation teams should ask this question frequently and as industry change occurs, there are many yet-to-be-satisfied consumer “jobs.” Don’t launch new products just because you can – be purposeful. Within that, sometimes a completely new product is not always the answer. For example, a simple formula tweak to an existing product can be the change you are looking for. This type of renovation can be powerful tool in appealing to new or developing needs. Rocky Balboa didn’t have to completely make over his style to beat Apollo Creed – he just learned to hit with his left!