Innovation. It is the most commonly used word in business right now. In CommBank’s Innovation Labs1, we are very fortunate to be able to share with our colleagues and clients how we innovate at CommBank. But what if you’re a not-for-profit or small business? How is it possible to innovate on top of everything else?

Here are seven things you can try today, or tomorrow, to make innovation possible in your organisation. And you don’t need a huge innovation budget or an army of staff.

1. Pick something that is broken and fix it

Mapping out journeys and customer experience is a great way to see where gaps and problems are. It could be a customer pain point that you haven’t been able to fix which may lead to improved customer experience and sales. Or it could be a process that is hindering employees from doing their jobs. Once you have pinpointed what it is that needs improving, you have a point from which to start innovating for a solution. 

2. Talk to customers  

This is one of the first things we do when we start anything new (or revisit something old) in the Innovation Labs. We ask our customers what they think. It’s free and it leads to a whole world of insights. Get to know who your customers are as people and try to understand what their life is like, what keeps them awake at night, and what their goals and aspirations are. Innovation can come from recognising what your customers need and desire and also what they really think of your product or service. 

3. Retrain your brain 

We’ve been talking about growth mindset a lot recently. It is incredibly valuable to approach change and innovation with an open mind and a thick skin. If you can take on feedback, overcome bumps in the road and push yourself out of your comfort zone you are going to achieve better results. You can train your brain to learn something new and challenging and get good at it. The more you do this, the easier it gets. 

4. Generate new ideas 

There are many tools and methods to come up with new ideas. Some of our favourites at the Lab are picking a challenge and bringing a diverse group of minds together for an ideation session. If you don’t have a team to lean on for this, consider asking friends and family over lunch. We try to come up with as many ideas as possible before prioritising a couple to work on. For example, we might look at parallel worlds: What industries or companies are already doing something really well and what can we learn from them? Or we might think of someone who inspires us (for example, a celebrity or superhero) and think about how they would approach this challenge. 

5. Make time to innovate 

Writing ‘innovate’ on your to-do list is more likely to cause frustration than make anything happen. Set time aside every week to work on your big hairy goal. Put aside as much time as you can allow and use that to work on your innovation project. Spend that time researching with customers, running ideation sessions, going on inspiring site visits or working on a prototype. The more you get into this habit, the more benefit you will see and the easier it will be to prioritise. 

6. Set your employees a challenge

Throw the question out to your people – you will get richer and more creative responses and they will feel more engaged. Even better is giving employees the opportunity to work on their idea. Make sure you celebrate success and share learnings along the way. And if you don’t have a team to ask for ideas, crowd source them – ask your suppliers, friends, family, even your bank!

7. Foster a safe environment

Your employees need to feel supported to try new ways of doing things without fear of breaking something. Set up a framework where you can safely experiment or run pilots and let them know that trying something and not succeeding (but learning from it) is supported. 

Remember, you don’t need to hire an innovation manager and tick off everything on this list in the next month. Pick one thing and try it this week. Focus and prioritisation are just as important as strategy.


1 CommBank's Innovation Labs were relaunched as X15 Ventures in 2020.

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