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Incubating innovation and changing with the times

Published:  07 October, 2016

Innovation is not something that happens in a vacuum. It is as much a result of having people who are comfortable challenging convention as it is a having companies that foster an environment which allow for ideas - no matter how crazy - to be captured and tested.

Speaking at September's WSTA annual conference, William Higham, behavioural futurist and founder of the Next Big Thing consultancy, drew a parallel between innovation and a forest fire: the right conditions are needed for an idea or product to catch light.

"For any fire you need a spark, but you also need the right environment," he said. "If I am in a forest and I drop a lit cigarette on the floor but it has been raining for six weeks, nothing is going to happen. But if I dropped it on the forest floor and there hadn't been any rain for six weeks, things are going to go up like a tinderbox.

"The same is really true with innovation. Yes, it needs someone to put the product or service out there, but if there isn't a need for it or if there isn't any interest it is simply going to fail."

Attracting not just creative thinkers, but calculated risk takers is key. But it can be a tall order to find such people according to Cilla Snowball CBE, group chairman and group chief executive of AMV BBDO.

"You need a mix of skills. You need people who can be bold, take risks and can uncover the human insights that lead to good innovation. We are not short of innovative ideas, but innovative ideas that don't make life easy for consumers or don't add value to experiences will fall by the way side. There is no shortage of complexity," she said.

Jacqueline Davey, vice president of cross-sector sales at IBM UK, explained how global technology company IBM builds in management systems that help foster an environment where change and innovation can thrive.

She said: "One of the values we have in our management systems is that you have to identify and treasure the wild ducks. They are the ones that don't fly in formation. These are people that, even though they may work for a very large company, want to do something new."

The ethos has been a core value for the company from the beginning of its 105 year history. "Thomas Watson, our founder over 100 years ago, said: 'The only things that have changed the success of our company have been made by people who put their head above the parapet and done something different.' So we create an environment where we value people who experiment with change," Davey said.

It goes without saying those companies that have people who embrace change and are willing to take risks and adapt will - at least for the foreseeable future - have a competitive advantage. Change, following the Brexit vote, is without doubt guaranteed.

You have to identify and treasure the wild ducks, the ones that don't fly in formation"

Jacqueline Davey

But I am optimistic about the future of the wine trade. Collectively, we seem to be self-critical about our ability as an industry to adapt. I do see change all around us, pushing the wine trade forever forward. Yes, it is hard, but there are some great opportunities out there.

In my time at Harpers I have seen the rise of English wine and discounters re-shape an entire channel. Independent merchants have adapted their businesses and introduced a hybrid model of both on- and off-trade premise sites, which are now quite commonplace. I have seen new packaging formats come out, from kegs in the on-trade to stubbies for wine in the off-trade. Technology is capturing more trade data and informing businesses better than ever before. Those are only a few examples of what has happened in three short years.

Whether these changes and innovations are permanent or successful is of course important, but the fact that people are trying out new ideas and innovations is what makes me so optimistic about the future of the trade.

It is with a bit of sadness, an immense amount of gratitude and some excitement that I too will be making some changes and moving into a new role in the retail sector of the trade. I have had an amazing time serving this title and that has as much do with this fantastic industry, as it does the product and the people leading it. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you, the reader - it has been such a personally rewarding experience and a privilege.

Change and change again seems to be the mantra of the day.