News & Events

Friday 02 October, 2015

How *not* to innovate

We live in a world where the idea is king, and innovation is crucial. Over the 129 years since the original Coca-Cola recipe was born, we’ve innovated to match people’s changing tastes and introduced new products offering choice in calorie and caffeine content – starting with the introduction of Diet Coke over 30 years ago.  But for us, innovation isn’t just about new product development; it’s also about generating fresh ideas across our whole business. Innovation is easier said than done, and history is littered with businesses that have paid lip service to the importance of generating fresh ideas without following through. In my team, we're determined not to let that happen so we've identified key pitfalls and bad habits that we know we have to avoid.

So here's our handy guide on how not to innovate.

Pitfall 1: Aiming for sophistication

Sophistication is generally a good thing, but, for innovation, focusing on simplicity is far more important. This is because one person's sophistication is another's complexity – and a complex idea is harder to grasp, test and build on. Like the final touches on an oil painting, sophistication can be always added at a later stage, but at an early stage it can convolute and confuse.

So what does focusing on simplicity mean in practise?

Firstly, it means a clear, quick process within the business. At CCE, we have a very short 'innovation funnel' with just three stages – and the end of the first stage is a presentation to a Senior Executive Leader within the organisation, so people get to take their ideas to the top very quickly. The innovation funnel is open to everyone. We know brilliant ideas come from everywhere, so why restrict the flow?  

Secondly, it means encouraging people to be ruthlessly focused on presenting their ideas in the clearest way possible. Jargon is the enemy here.

We also encourage people to sketch their idea on a piece of paper – if it can be explained with a simple diagram it means everyone involved in carrying the idea forward is aligned. Hey, if it worked for Twitter, it can work for us.

Pitfall 2. Choosing not to listen

Once an idea is put forward, it’s easy to get carried away and plough on with development without stopping to consider other points of view. The second stage of our innovation funnel is focused on testing and data analysis. It’s where we take a step back and seek independent viewpoints. It can be a bit brutal. Sometimes we discover the idea isn’t as new or original as we thought, and other times we find it doesn’t stand up to testing. This is the time to be honest, and kill our darlings if necessary. Only by doing this can we ensure ideas that get to the final stage are really strong.

Pitfall 3. Dismissing opportunities to collaborate

We love keeping tabs on clever partnerships whenever they arise – a recent favourite being the team up between Uber and Spotify. We also know we don’t have all the answers so we actively seek partners to collaborate with, and keep an open mind when anyone approaches us.

After a recent conference, I jumped into a cab with an executive of a global producer of crystal. He started to speak enthusiastically about a collaborative idea, which I initially thought was a bit mad. But by the end of the trip, he turned me round and we managed to sketch out something that genuinely excited us both. Will it remain a sketch? Watch this space…

Bal Bansal

Associate Director, IT Innovation

Bal Bansal is Associate Director, IT Innovation at Coca-Cola Enterprises.

Bal is responsible for IT Innovation, ensuring ideas generated have clear support and guidance with the correct funding to develop and deliver business results using Lean Start-up principles. He believes the key ingredients for success are having the right people, well defined process and a clear purpose.


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