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Innovating your way to growth in 2020 and beyond

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“Although we often think about innovation from the perspective of products and services, the reality is that the concept of innovation can be applied to our everyday lives.” 

The end of a year typically marks a time for reflection and anticipation for the year ahead. As we look back over the goals reached, the successes achieved, the challenges overcome, as well as the tasks that reman uncompleted in the current year, it is appropriate to be proud of our successes thus far while also evaluating the work and needs ahead. As we make these reflections and resolve to strive towards making 2020 a year of growth and positive transformation, in our individual lives, careers and businesses; it is worth thinking about what opportunities exist for incorporating innovation into our corporate and personal growth aspirations. All through the year, we have explored ways in which the power of innovation, creativity and technology have been used to change lives and transform the world around us.

From agriculture to retail, finance, oil & gas,  and healthcare, we have seen technology applied to create innovative solutions. Although we often think about innovation from the perspective of products and services, the reality is that the concept of innovation can be applied to our everyday lives. Personal innovation is important to keep us moving forward, reinventing oneself. 

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Creativity focuses on the generation of new ideas, while innovation is the process of testing and iterating those ideas and ultimately making them into something useful. An innovative solution might not be the first invention that was created to address a need. However, the truly innovative solution is the one that enhances the value that can be derived from an invention, by solving any lingering challenges that prevent it from providing a comprehensive solution.  Take the iPod for instance. It was not the first portable music device that was developed. That distinction belongs to the Sony Walkman. Although the Walkman was a ground-breaking invention, it had some limitations. Users of the Walkman could only use a single musical disc in the device at a time. There was an unmet customer need for a portable device that could allow more music to be digitally downloaded, stored and accessed on the device. MP3 players provided the ability to digitally download music, but it was the iPod that finally brought together portability, large storage, access to a broad digital marketplace of songs and software that could enhance the consumer’s listening experience.

The lesson here is that innovation does not require that you are the first to think about a concept or an idea. It only requires that you think broadly about the unmet needs that can be observed in the current way products are utilised. If you can develop solutions that address those needs in a valuable way, then you would have developed an innovation.

There are many solutions from the African experience that we can be inspired by as we resolve to make the next year, one in which innovation will be leveraged to drive growth. Today, the power of machine learning is being used in parts of Africa to boost agricultural produce. A specific example is a technology solution called Nuru, a lightweight mobile app that farmers can use to detect diseases in cassava plants using TensorFlow, an open source machine learning library.

Financial inclusion and banking the unbanked remains a challenge in Africa. Mobile telephony and cellular access which is extensive on the continent, is being used to deliver innovative solutions to address financial inclusion. Today, more than 30 million people in Kenya use M-Pesa, powered by Safaricom for payments, transfers and savings. The service does not need a smartphone or a bank account, positioning it as an impactful local solution for a large portion of the African population.

A Lagos-based blood and oxygen delivery company is innovating in the healthcare sector and saving lives by leveraging technology to connect blood banks to hospitals via the Google Maps Platform, cutting down delivery time from 24 hours to less than 45 minutes. Indeed, there have been giant strides made in the last few years. Innovators have taken seemingly intractable challenges and turned them into winning solutions.

As we think about the many examples of how innovators have brought solutions to address business and societal challenges in Africa in the past year, it is imperative to consider how we can incorporate the same concepts into our personal lives in the years ahead. How can innovation be applied in a personal space? Innovation always involves thinking outside the box. It requires improving on what currently exists by enhancing strengths and reducing or eliminating weaknesses. As you think about the things that you accomplished in 2019, it is worth identify those factors that made success possible. Perhaps it was a great work ethic, the development of a new skill, partnership with other creative minds, becoming part of a positive network, or developing the boldness to take the first step. Personal innovation requires those positive factors to be further honed and developed in the year ahead. It is perhaps the shortcomings we had, the challenges we struggled with and even the failures that we experienced, which might offer us with more opportunities for growth and innovation.

The first step to is to identify those areas that require attention and improvement. Sometimes we can uncover this through introspection, and at other times from the objective feedback from the market, customers, colleagues and mentors. The next step is to then determine what needs to be done and to get a clear picture of what the end goal looks like.  This is crucial, as it helps the innovator determine what skills or resources will be needed to achieve the goal and to develop a plan for achieving it. 

Finally, we need to implement the plan. It is not enough to identify the opportunity, or to outline the things that need to be done. Actually rolling up our sleeves and doing those things is how we grow. Innovation occurs when needs meet comprehensive solutions that are unfettered by the limitations that we might currently have.

As we look ahead into 2020 and beyond, the possibilities are immense and endless. A new year gives us the opportunity to take stock; take a look at the challenges around us, engage in creative thinking and give a fresh, creative approach to the problems that exist. On the flip side of every challenge is an opportunity – to innovate and make a difference.

Through innovation, we can create value and ease burdens. By stretching our imagination, and finding ways to integrate innovative ideas with technology solutions, we can accelerate growth, in our personal lives and in our businesses, while creating the Africa we want to see. The possibilities are endless. 
Here’s to a successful year ahead.

Juliet Ehimuan is Country Director at Google leading Google’s business strategy in W/Africa and Next Billion Users initiative in Africa. Named Forbes top 20 power women in Africa, featured in the London Business School Review as one of 30 people changing the world, and also featured in BBC Africa Power Women series.

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Juliet EhimuanNuru
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