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The Importance of Innovation During Market Uncertainty

The Importance of Innovation During Market Uncertainty


DATE: 25 April, 2023

Key Takeways

  • Be on strategy and make it easy for people in the organisation to support innovation.
  • Find champions who are leading change and focus on them.
  • Prioritise progress over perfection and take a lean approach to innovation.
  • Partner with technology experts when necessary.
  • Resilience is key, and innovation is a marathon, not a sprint.

The past few years can only be described as a rollercoaster for innovation. As businesses struggled to pivot in the face of Covid change or fell away altogether, leaders of large organisations faced more uncertainty and ambiguity than they have ever experienced in decades, tackling some of the biggest decisions of their careers. To add to this pressure, rather than slow down, emergent technology has only increased its speed.

However when market uncertainty rears its head and budget cuts bite, innovation seems to be the first thing to go.

Many of the tech giants have halted major innovation projects at a time when some might say they are needed most. Sharath Srinivasamurthy, Associate Vice President of Research at analyst firm IDC recently commented, “these companies would rather channel their investments towards initiatives that are proven or matured rather than investing in something that is too futuristic”

“Innovation can feel like a big risk as many employees just feel lucky to have a job at all.”

So why is it so important to keep innovating, when it just seems so hard right now?

Consider this — some of the greatest innovation of our human age has come out of struggle, out of a race to the moon, out of war and recession. Computers for example came into being during World War II, when the United States military needed powerful help with ballistic research. 

And yet we've been led to believe that you need just the ‘right' environment or technology to grow and foster new ideas, but the truth is we just need to keep listening and being aware of what customers are asking for. How could what you're offering give them the outcomes they didn't even know they needed, in the leanest way? 

If you're in a large organisation you'll also have to follow the breadcrumbs to sponsorship and funding… and navigate complexity.

The pressure on traditional business models has never been greater and what customers now expect is driving that change. Large organisations have been disrupted for many years by customer centric startups eroding market share (think AfterPay). Meeting the market means shifting to models such as managed services that provide continuous engagement for clients and customers.

How to continue to move the dial on innovating new products in your organisation

1. Go with the flow

Be on strategy. Make it easy for people in your organisation to support you. Even if you're trying to deal with emerging technology such as ChatGPT, there will be a way to make sure it resonates with the direction the business is going in. This also means that it will likely help others achieve their goals in the process — so it's a win-win.

2. Don't go it alone. Find your champions

Sometimes it can feel like there is a slow pace of change — but if you look you'll see the people who are leading change and that's just where you need to focus. These champions will have found ways to navigate through the red tape and often have created pathways for others to follow. It can also really help your mental health when you realise other leaders are facing the same issues as you.

3. Progress over perfection, innovation is a marathon not a sprint — go lean

Product discovery is the key ingredient in finding the first step in reducing your customers pain, this may be a spreadsheet initially. Iterating from there together with your customers will give you insights you can't get from assumptions about what they want. From experience, standing up an MVP can be a real exercise in resilience for teams within corporate. What's worse is that they can often feel unsupported as the funding goes to projects that are part of the current business model rather than innovation projects which are focused on keeping the organistaion relevant in the long run. 

Sometimes the simplest way is the best way, and it may be the first phase of something bigger. Just getting the leanest option over the line first as trying to bite off too much at first can really bog you down. For example, adopting a new business model — changing your revenue model from one-off fees to continuous engagement, digitising certain workflows or leveraging existing technology for new use cases, can actually be done with existing service repackaged and tested with very little associated cost.

4. Partner for success

Due to the speed of change, and often you just won't have the resources or the right skill sets to pull together a minimum viable tech product, working with tech partners can be a game changer. For example, Aquent Studios provides scaleable teams to build products and experiences, with capabilities across strategy, enablement, and activation.

Daintree Peters, CEO of Assembler, works with consulting and accounting firms to help rapidly build technology and says he sees this firsthand every day. Large organisations trying to innovate in a fast-moving market are faced with unique challenges, Peters agrees and says that:

“Often the business team, the subject matter experts, and the sponsor haven't done this many times before — so, not only do they lean on us to provide technical expertise to get something created, they value our ability to predict the hurdles they'll face and guide them through product management and their own internal processes”.

5. Innovation is a resilience game

While working in startups comes with its own challenges, resilience to get through tech and legal risk in large organisations (and all the extra hoops) requires a special kind of resilience! You will find a way through, it might just take a little longer than you planned, so get your supporters on side and don't go too hard too early!

In summary, you'll need to dodge and weave and hustle, while holding down your main job, but keep showing up and have faith that your persistence will pay off.

Please note the opinions stated are Fiona Wilhelm's personal views and not those of KPMG.