Recently, I’ve posted in a few LinkedIn discussions about innovation culture. Everyone seems to have an opinion about this important subject, but there is little agreement. One of the biggest arguments is about the most important person for innovation in a company. Who is this person?

My answer is clear and unequivocal. The most important person for innovation in your company is not the chief innovation officer, the head of R&D, or even the CMD. The most important person for innovation is the customer!

Customer-Centered Innovation

My first principle of successful innovation states, “Customers are the only critics who matter. Involve them as early as possible in the problem-solving process.”

Economic Times recently published an in-depth story about how Tata Group companies are transforming their cultures to become more innovative and successful. Earlier, most of Tata’s customers were manufacturers. Companies such as Tata Steel and Tata Chemicals drove sales with technical excellence and scale.

Later, the company added B2C lines of business, such as automobiles and jewelry. Customers of these companies, as well as purchasing agents at industrial firms, acquired more knowledge and power through globalization and the Internet, changing the equation for the Tata Group. Some companies in the group—in particular, Tata Motors—faced challenges and even embarrassing reverses in their efforts to grow.

When confronted with similar challenges, some companies redouble their engineering efforts to produce better products. Others hire consultants to do market research in order to learn why customers don’t purchase more of their products. Some firms run their own surveys or focus groups to hear the voice of the customer more clearly. Any of these approaches has some chance of improving results, but even if a company takes all of these steps, the chance of failure remains high.

At Tata Group, CMD Cyrus Mistry has told his company heads to get out of their offices and spend more time with customers. This, in my opinion, is the right move. If Tata’s managers use world-class innovation techniques during those visits, they will very likely discover the insights they need to invent powerful, profitable solutions.

When the MDs set such an example, it is bound to affect the culture at their firms. When the culture becomes customer-focused, then customer-centered innovation has a chance to take root and thrive. When companies demonstrate commitment to innovation and they gain competence in world-class tools and methods, then they become successful innovators.

I wish my friends at Tata Group great success, and I hope that you, also, will follow their example. Why not leave a comment below to boast about your innovations, ask a question, share a best practice from your company, or raise a challenge?


10 responses to “The most important person in innovation

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