Innovation is the secret of successful companies, an important economic motor – and a frequently used buzzword in business and politics. But what is actually behind this term, which literally means “innovation”? We talked to Ulrike Tagscherer, Chief Innovation Officer at KUKA, about the methods used by innovative companies and why it sometimes helps to think differently than in day-to-day business.
How is innovation actually defined?
“In short: an innovation is something new that is successfully implemented in the market, with which you earn money directly or indirectly. This can be a new product or concept, a new solution, a new service or process. The “novelty aspect” refers to one’s own industry or competitors, in most cases it is not enough if something is new only for one’s own company.
Innovations can be divided into different categories. The best known are so-called incremental and radical innovations. In the first category, one speaks of rather small, incremental innovations, in the second category of innovations that radically change something that already exists. If you take a closer look, you can distinguish about 10 different types of innovation.
As a result, technological innovations may cover some things, but by no means everything. That’s why we must see innovation more comprehensively than technology, even if technological innovations are particularly important for a technology company like KUKA.”
What makes an innovative company?
“An innovative company always brings new products to the market and generates a relevant share of its turnover with products and solutions that are less than three years old. This requires a fundamental understanding within the company that innovation is the prerequisite for long-term economic success. This requires continuous investment in innovation work, with clear processes and measurable evaluation criteria.
An innovative company starts with the needs or problems of its customers. Because only if we can create value for our customers will they be willing to pay for or use innovations. A very important element in an innovative company is an open, courageous and future-oriented corporate culture.
This culture also includes admitting mistakes and learning from them to continuously improve. This requires “thinking spaces” in which one is allowed to think and act differently than in day-to-day business.”
How is KUKA driving innovation forward?
“KUKA is pushing the topic of innovation on many different levels because it takes many participants to implement innovations. For example, we have developed an innovation vision, an innovation strategy and an associated process. And we have had our innovation campaigns since last year.
In this way we create awareness throughout the company that the ideas for innovations can come from anyone and everyone in the company. We then use the ideas selected from campaigns and topics that come to us through a variety of channels to shape our innovation portfolio.
This refers to a certain number of innovation projects at different stages of maturity, from initial ideas to prototypes to so-called minimal viable products. This process systematically drives these innovation projects forward so that they can be presented to management in such a way that they can decide very well whether, when and how further investment should be made.
In this way, our employees are also trained in the use of various innovation methods. This is an important aspect for our innovation activities, not least with a view to a corporate culture of greater tolerance of mistakes in the innovation area and the awareness that we can learn from mistakes.”
Bildnachweise: Getty/Eoneren, Getty/fotografstockholm