If you are an SME with a wish to add value to your organisation through innovation but you are not equipped with experienced innovation skills, what are some of the helpful steps to begin?

In the last article on innovation for SMEs, we pointed to the importance of developing culture by creating early process wins and telling the stories; building wins around practical innovation events that enable the journey of innovative discovery. Over the next two articles we will explore several of these actual discovery steps and events in more detail.

Think about your ‘axes of innovation’

First, it is important to reflect on the alignment between an organisation’s strategic directions and positioning and how this can guide the program of innovation. What will be the broader categories or directions of innovation – sometimes referred to as the ‘strategic axes of innovation’ - that the SME will focus on, and what discovery tools and techniques will be applied within each axis?

Some businesses will seek to innovate to create a competitive advantage in a particular facet of their business model. Others may cast the net wider and pursue several innovative directions simultaneously. Strategic axes of innovation will often extend to include non-product or service-based processes as well.

Finding the right axes

Many organisations will begin their innovation journey with a series of workshops which specifically seek to draw the roadmap of these high-level strategic innovation directions. Questions to discuss will include:

  • What could the innovations themselves look like?
  • Will they be based around products, services or business models?
  • Will the nature of the innovation be disruptive, a potential game-changer or one that applies more modest incremental changes?
  • Who will be the stakeholders that benefit?
  • What are the types of benefits that will be delivered?
  • What is the history of frustrations or pain points that remain unresolved for these stakeholders?
  • How might competitive advantage be characterised?
  • Which of our current organisational ambitions or values should drive each strategic axis of innovation? I.e. the concrete manufacturer sought an innovation that upheld its principles of earth-friendliness.

An innovation portfolio reduces risk

By pursuing a selection of diverse innovation axes, the business starts out on the right path for managing risk. Since this is by definition a portfolio approach, the SME can begin to hedge the inherent risks of innovation.

From this point, the SME can now apply the specific innovation discovery methods which are best suited to each of the strategic innovation axes.


Andrew Klapka GAICD is CEO of TransChem, an importer and distributor of raw materials. Previously he spent 10 years in Paris managing global innovation for Lafarge France, a leading European multinational. The earlier articles in this series can be found here and here.