We talked to Bradley Pallister, Head of Innovation at Innovolo about Helping B2B clients to turn new product ideas into commercial success with industrial and mechanical design and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Bradley Pallister: Thanks Kossi, we can’t complain. It’s been a strange journey over the past 10 months or so, but I am well, my family is well. We’re looking forward to welcoming our first child in the next few weeks, all going well! We have had a few of our staff contract COVID, but thankfully we are all backup and running and generally in good health.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Innovolo.
Bradley Pallister: I’m a director and Head of Innovation at Innovolo, a UK-based innovation and product development consultancy serving the global market.
OK, so we started Innovolo before COVID was even a thing. It’s a family-owned business; there’s my dad and my three brothers. I feel sorry for some of the staff sometimes because we also have two sisters working with us too. Great fun, though.
So how did we start? Well, ever since I was a little kid, I can remember my dad as an inventor, like a mad professor type of thing. I think that’s what some of my friends thought he was anyway. I’d go into his garage, and honestly, it was like Aladdin’s den. There was an engine in one corner that ran on water, a few helicopter bits in the next corner, and then filters of every description, water filters, oil filters, air filters, coffee filters, you name it. My dad is a very interesting chap and full of knowledge from many different disciplines.
So when he was made redundant, we gathered around and thought, well this is actually a great opportunity to start our own gig. Something that we’ve wanted to do for many years, but the time was never quite right. Coming from a variety of different backgrounds like automotive, construction, life safety, and electrical, this all combined to give a formidable team. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Duncan Wardle’s coined expression about ‘naïve experts’, but that’s basically what we became.
We’re all about innovation, helping our clients to grow in their innovation culture maturity, and accelerating their R&D teams to make them achieve a robust ROI. Developing new products for our clients is a large part of what we do.
How does Innovolo innovate?
Bradley Pallister: Good question. How does an innovation company innovate themselves? This is a question we’ve asked ourselves a number of times over the past few years. I guess it boils down to trusting your gut instincts, in some respects. We have three values at Innovolo: big, professional, right. What does that mean? So if we have an idea come up – and believe me, we have more ideas than you could shake a stick it – we run it past our values. Is it thinking big? If not, chuck it out. Is it the professional thing to do? If not, throw it out. And then the last value, which is probably the most important one, is it the right thing to do? Does it meet our minimum ethical values? Big, professional, right – that’s the backbone of our organization.
But I guess to answer your question, we have been doing a lot of work innovating our innovation processes. That might sound a bit corny, but we’re firm believers that innovation can be process-driven. Innovation is all about creativity. Creativity can be systematized, and we’re on a mission to help SMEs understand that, and how instilling it into their organizations can push them ahead fast.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Bradley Pallister: The pandemic hasn’t affected us as much as many other businesses around the world. We have a lot to be thankful for. The business was set up to run remotely from its inception, so when lockdown 1.0 came in like a wrecking ball, we simply packed up our desks and worked from home, whether that’s here in Cornwall, or in Newcastle or Germany or wherever our guys work from. It really wasn’t too much of a big deal. We still run innovation workshops without any interruption; we’ve just taken them online instead. Very much looking forward to getting back together again, though.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Bradley Pallister: COVID gave us a unique opportunity that possibly wouldn’t have been experienced by many other organizations. Because we are in the innovation and product development space, those businesses who realized that they needed to innovate or pivot very fast to survive got in touch with us very early on. We experienced a boom in the early throws of the pandemic that kept us extremely busy, and our headcount grew very fast. One of the difficult choices that every business has is, when is the right time to hire? Can we afford it right now? Well, for us, it was a case of, can we afford not to hire? Again, going back to our BPR, our big, professional, right, this made that decision a relatively easy one.
The lesson in this to me was, if you need to hire to help the business to survive or thrive, then just listen to your gut and watch your cashflow forecast carefully.
What specific tools, software and management skills are helping you navigate the crisis?
Bradley Pallister: Microsoft Teams has been very helpful for us in keeping the team together. The software has come a long way over the past 12-18 months, and actually, I hate to say this, but Microsoft has actually done a good job with this. We have access to some top business coaches who mentor us closely.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Bradley Pallister: We have some big plans for the next few years. We’re not too worried about competitors exactly; we’re developing our services and pricing models constantly to meet our clients’ needs rather than just copying what some other company is doing. The only way really to stay in the game is to fail fast, and never stop learning.
We’re also working with several universities and are now in a position of offering internships for the students. This is definitely a win-win for our industry.
One big development we’ve just launched is our ‘Unlimited Innovation-as-a-Service’. This basically gives clients the option to have their own department that they can throw as much R&D projects as they wish for a low set amount each month. A bit like a café selling ‘as much as you can eat for a fiver’ kind of thing.
Your final thoughts?
Bradley Pallister: Don’t ever think your organization is beyond the need for a mentor. Global events like COVID can bring organizations big and small to their knees, and you need to keep agile, learn from experience, and stay humble.
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