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Innovation: trends opportunities and challenges
As a business, who ‘owns and runs’ innovation? And what are the common blockers preventing organisations at any size to innovate?
During a recent webinar hosted by Chasm Digital, leading experts discussed how brands like Nordstrom have stayed relevant by embracing an innovation mindset.

The experts on the panel were:

  • Robert Spector, International CX Leader, and best selling author of ‘The Nordstrom Way’
  • Mark Baartse, Former Showpo CMO, Outsourced Marketing & E-Commerce Consultant
  • Rob Kinkade, Co-Founder and CEO, Chasm Digital

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Who owns innovation?
Rob Kinkade, Co-Founder and CEO, Chasm Digital, says innovation has to come from the top and cannot be from a side department. The C-suite must constantly be pushing for innovation in an organisation.

"The entire organisation, from the customer-facing folks to senior leaders, needs to commit to innovation and what goes along with it. Innovation involves uncertainty, a degree of risk and it's not always going to go to scripts.

“Some innovation attempts are going to be important learnings, where money was invested and nothing came out of it. I think people in the organisation need to know that they've got a license to get out and try things, and maybe even break a few things along the way.

Rob says creating that cultural mandate is important within the organisation. He warns to not underestimate how important that is, and how risky it is to embark on a transformation without it.

One of the common trends he has seen is the emergence of a Chief Digital Officer, which he classifies as being a point-in-time role. " At some point, they almost make the role irrelevant because they bring the organisation from an industrial age mindset to the digital age.

"They ensure that digital is for everybody in the organisation, and everyone's taking ownership of the digital agenda. But that process doesn't just happen naturally, it's got to be facilitated," Rob says.

Robert notes a company does not need a Chief Innovation Officer, as innovation and creativity can come from any department.

"Good ideas can come from anywhere, especially people who are doing that particular job. I do a lot of breakout sessions where people talk about how they can improve their job because they're the ones who are doing it. That's the kind of valuable information that you can't buy." Robert explains.
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Convincing the C-Suite to be more digital
Mark Baartse, Former Showpo CMO, Outsourced Marketing & E-Commerce Consultant, says he has had a lot of success in convincing analogue C-suite members to embrace digital pathways.

"It's the open, teachable mentality. For example, one company that is a household name has an old owner where his secretary prints out his emails. As the Chairman, he is hands-on pulling the strings. However he's also got a tech-savvy CEO in place. They've done a lot of ecommerce. While the owner is old-school, he understands the importance of being digital.

"He's looked at the data and he understands the wave of winter turning. He has taken people around him and follows their advice intelligently," Mark explains.
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Innovation is ongoing
Modern technology is at a point where it could be seen as science fiction, or as Robert Spector, International CX Leader, and best selling author of ‘The Nordstrom Way’ likes to call it, ‘science nonfiction’.

"Innovation has got to be always on. It'll be that way for the foreseeable future. Great companies are constantly testing, learning and experimenting. One thing I love about Nordstrom is they do that with their store formats.”

A great example of that is the idea of Nordstrom Local, where the company takes the full offer of products and puts it into a smaller hub like a supermarket or boutique on a high street, Rob says.

"What you've done is you've decoupled the physical warehousing with the delivery of the experience. Delivery can happen through the ecommerce back end and through different modes of fulfilment.

"In this example, Nordstrom has created an additional touchpoint that allows customers to engage with the brand, and they solve problems that are important to their customers. It allows more people to get a taste of that Nordstrom magic," Rob explains.

Rob says any department store that does this in Australia first will have an edge on the competition. "I wouldn't be surprised if someone like The Iconic or a digital-first retailer did omnichannel in reverse and did it first."
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Innovation blockers
While innovation is exciting, there are still hurdles that organisations need to remove.

With COVID came the increased demand for digital products and services, which means there is a demand for people with digital skills, Mark explains.

"The rate of online shopping has skyrocketed over the last two years. As a result, there's been an increased demand for digitally savvy people, and historically, Australia has heavily recruited digitally equipped people from overseas.

But with borders closed, we have an increase in demand and a decrease in supply. It's a challenge at the moment, and I think other countries are having the same problems in finding talent," Mark says.

Robert explains that in the US, Nordstrom closed 16 full-line stores in the top malls around the country and executives have to innovate to make sure customers still have access to a store.

"Nordstrom is an interesting place that's constantly changing, it attracts people who respond to those sorts of challenges. It's taking a chance on finding people who are creative, who may not fit the department store image, but have great ideas," Robert notes.

Robert says if you want to be innovative, you can't be careful. At the same time, those two things are mutually exclusive.

"Leadership that's willing to take that chance, even if things don’t work out, is key. Nothing ventured is nothing gained and all those other cliches. So you have to have courage,” Robert adds.

Closer to home in Australia, Rob says previously there was a duopoly of brands and the smaller companies had to stay close to the competition. Now, the switch has flipped. Young digital companies are becoming the leaders in their field.

Rob says there was a lack of willingness from organisations to take the risk to innovate.

"Now we have amazing startups coming out of Australia. The Silicon Valley VC community has Aussie businesses like Atlassian and Canva on their radar.

"There are unicorns coming out of the woodwork almost every month. Companies we haven't hadn't even heard of are creating enormous amounts of wealth and generating incredible innovation. It's changing a lot right now. It is going to be an exciting decade in Australia and the Asia Pacific," Rob states.
Unblock and accelerate transformation

There are several ways organisations can accelerate their transformation in 2022. Rob suggests companies get their employees out of the office to talk to customers and understand their unmet needs.

"Be willing to test, learn, experiment and trial things, even if the only outcome is validated learning," Rob says.

He also notes that organisations need to make sure every employee is involved in the innovation agenda and the transformation journey.

"It's about bringing together the folks that have been in the company for a long time. They know the culture, they know the way things have always been done and what's contributed to the success to date. But it's bringing those people together with some of the new employees who've come out of maybe more digital-first roles. You will then see the magic happen.

"I've got a saying that ‘the magic is in the gaps’, when you see a UX designer working with an experienced buyer to develop a new feature on a website, it is exciting," Rob says.

Mark agrees, saying it's about supporting employees on their innovation journey.

"It is about getting the right people in and supporting them. You can let them do cool stuff, and just give them business guidance. It's about finding the right people who have and understand the need for a flexible, agile mindset," Mark explains.
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Flexibility, agility, communication, transformation and social responsibility
Robert says organisations should focus on flexibility, agility, communication, transformation and social responsibility in 2022.

"These days, especially in the US, there are various concerns that organisations need to address - but communication is number one.

"I give a lot of talks to companies all over the world. You ask them what's their biggest challenge? It's communication, and the Nordstroms communicate.

“During the height of the pandemic, the two brothers who run the company had a Zoom call every Friday for months. They let people know what was going on because they weren't in their offices. If there is no communication, nature abhors a vacuum, you have to be proactive and communicate," Robert ends.

Organisations that are open to innovation and embedding a startup mindset into their business are guaranteed to grow and find more success in the future. Keeping the C-Suite on the innovation journey and making sure every employee understands the need for innovation is a sure-fire way of achieving organisational success.

Tune in to watch the full conversation free and on demand here.
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