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Thoughts On Innovation – Brett Pitts

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Brett Pitts, Chief Digital Officer at BMO Financial Group


What is your definition of “innovation”?

Innovation, to me, is the development and execution of breakthrough, value-generating improvements to the process, technology, and/or user experience for customers or employees. The value generated from successful innovation doesn’t even have to be associated with an intended outcome – it can be from the learnings associated with failure.


Why is it important for companies to innovate and invest in modern technologies?

Business environments, today, are incredibly dynamic and only becoming more so. When an organization is looking to invest in innovation, they are looking at their business critically – understanding the needs of their customers, their traditional and non-traditional competitors, and looking at how their own organization runs in order to make it more effective and efficient. Innovation requires the development of organizational muscles, across functions, for years, in order to become more effective – it’s not something at which a company is effective the day it decides it needs to be more innovative. An innovation culture is a learning culture and a risk-taking culture that is more responsive and adaptable in everything it does.


What advice can you give to Canadian businesses looking to make the most out of their investments in innovation?

Investment in innovation is not inherently the same as investment in technology or investment in feature-development or projects. Effective innovation requires a deep understanding of what creates customer and business value, what creates and mitigates risk, and when technology supports a complete rethink of business processes. Innovation requires a bias for action and an understanding that an organization learns more by doing and iterating than it does by endlessly analyzing. In my experience, here’s how to start: pick a meaningful customer or business problem; put together a cross-functional team composed of people close to the work to examine that problem and possible ways of addressing it from different angles; give the team the resources and the permission to experiment, and then publicly celebrate the learnings from unsuccessful outcomes every bit as much as you celebrate successful outcomes.

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