In the commercial marketplace, it is common for companies to claim to be innovative. In business management and leadership, however, that skill may not be as widespread as we would like to think. Being innovative can be about applying knowledge and experience to situations whilst using the best available resources, to produce the best possible outcome. That may be an improved product or service, or a better experience. However, risk is always a factor in decision-making as well, for financial and reputational reasons.

When agencies like ourselves are briefed by clients on their requirements for corporate events such as a conferences, hospitality events or incentive programmes, we are inevitably asked to find “new” creative solutions. Innovation is equated to originality or novelty. That is invention, not innovation – something much harder to achieve and generally not feasible in terms of the budgets or timescales at play.

Innovation adding value

Wikipedia says:

‘Innovation can be defined simply as a “new idea, device or method”. However, innovation is often also viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs. Such innovation takes place through the provision of more-effective products, processes, services, technologies, or business models that are made available to markets, governments and society.

Innovation is related to, but not the same as, invention, as innovation is more apt to involve the practical implementation of an invention (i.e. new/improved ability) to make a meaningful impact in the market or society, and not all innovations require an invention.’

When thought and imagination are applied to a situation there is an increased chance that it will be seen differently. A new perspective can reveal flaws or imperfections which can be corrected. Evolution is a process of small adjustments and improvements, both in nature and in human endeavour. Being innovative requires an enquiring mind and a desire to build on what already exists. It could be compared with cutting and polishing a diamond, to fully exploit its brilliance.

Small changes

The most dramatic example of how marginal improvements affect performance has been seen in the rise and success of British cycling. An excellent article on the BBC News web site, by Matthew Syed, asks “Should we all be looking for marginal gains?”. In the article, it is demonstrated how Sir Dave Brailsford, performance director of British Cycling, set out to make a series of 1% improvements in a number of areas with the aim that the cumulative gains would end up being hugely significant. He viewed each area of weakness not as a failure, but an opportunity to make adaptations. The article goes on to provide examples of how the concept has been applied in healthcare and aviation. It undoubtedly works for every business. It certainly makes a difference in event management.

So, in planning and managing business projects, especially live corporate events which by their very nature can be unpredictable, we need to constantly search for opportunities to improve the outcomes. Disciplined planning involves exploring and reviewing everything in detail, while at the same time keeping an open mind about options for improvement.

The added element

As event managers, we have a responsibility to ensure that realistic objectives are agreed at the briefing stage and are expressed in terms of measurable outcomes. The underlying purpose of live corporate events is to change behaviour and using Event ROI (return on investment) methodology helps to identify the most effective formula for a successful event. Innovation in this context is very similar to creativity.

Many elements of a live event are present every time. Location, venue, staffing, catering and technical facilities are tangible, physical and essential foundations with which to produce an “experience”. We all recognise good service when we receive it, so one important contribution which an event planner can make is in using their knowledge to recommend and select event suppliers who operate to the highest standards. That alone does not guarantee a truly successful event, however, as there has to be an extra ingredient, which is the element of surprise and delight that exceeds expectations and creates unique memories for those who attend the event.

In an event management industry forum, the most frequent requests for advice are about finding a good corporate events specialist, whether technical or creative, to add the finishing touch to an event programme. The small details make the biggest impressions on guests, delegates or participants at any live event. Innovation is about those small improvements that generate incremental change.