Career Development

What Is Innovation Consulting? (Definition and Skills)

August 26, 2021

Most companies continually work to find new ways to meet the needs of their customers. Innovation consultants are professionals who specialize in helping businesses develop new ideas that can help them serve their customers better. If you're a creative person with extensive business experience, you may want to pursue a career as an innovation consultant. In this article, we explore what innovation consulting is, what innovation consultants do, what their skills are and explain how to become an innovation consultant.

What is innovation consulting?

Innovation consulting is the process of discovering new methods of creating value for customers and growth opportunities for companies. Businesses typically hire innovation consultants to perform research, review current data and offer new perspectives on current processes. Innovation consultants often have extensive experience in their chosen field.

Related: How To Create an Innovative Culture at Work

What do innovation consultants do?

Innovation consultants often work with a variety of clients and can have different tasks depending on their requirements. Here are some of the tasks an innovation consultant may have:

Develop growth strategies

Growth strategies are plans that companies make to map their future success. Innovation consultants may take a lead role in helping businesses define their goals for future growth. Growth strategies often address defining the company's purpose, finding its space in the market, identifying potential customers and developing strategies to make its products more competitive.

Identify ineffective processes

Ineffective processes may be hard to identify from inside the company, so businesses could hire outside expertise to help reveal the processes that may prevent an enterprise's success. Innovation consultants can develop solutions to improve techniques and processes, encouraging growth. They also may be able to create and help implement completely new processes that continue to work long term.

Generate new ideas

Developing new ways to approach success is often the primary job of an innovation consultant. They may do this by generating new product ideas, offering plans for improving customer experiences or developing new business models. Innovation consultants can also help companies identify underserved markets that could be open to new products.

Improve hiring practices

Talented employees can add value to a company and help improve its practices long term. An innovation consultant can help an HR team develop a positive brand image that attracts more qualified candidates. A consultant can also help create hiring practices that ensure each candidate is a good addition who can excel within the company.

Deliver innovation

Some innovation consultants may continue to help businesses after the initial phase of idea generation and help them bring new ideas to the market. They may take a new product idea and aid in its design and prototyping phase. They may also help pilot the product, test it with customers and scale production once it launches.

Build capability

Many companies hire innovation consultants in order to improve their own innovation capabilities. Their goal is to build capacity for innovation so outside expertise becomes unnecessary. Innovation consultants can often achieve this by hiring and training new personnel, changing management structures and developing a company culture of innovation.

Related: 7 Steps for Becoming More Innovative at Work

Innovation consultant skills

Innovation consultants may work in a variety of environments for very different clients, and a broad skill set can help them manage the many tasks they might encounter. Here are some of the skills that may be helpful to innovation consultants:

  • Ability to learn: Since every one of a consultant's clients is different, the ability to quickly learn about different products, business models and markets can be very important for success in innovation consulting.

  • Organization: Many innovation consultants work across the different departments that make up a company and may be active in many processes simultaneously. Strong organizational skills can help them manage a large and diverse workload.

  • Resourcefulness and adaptability: Innovation often requires working in unknown conditions, and an ability to change direction quickly and find solutions to new problems can help innovation consultants implement new ideas.

  • Interpersonal skills: When an innovation consultant takes a new client, they usually gain a new set of coworkers. An ability to communicate and be part of a team can help them integrate with new teams.

  • Critical thinking: Critical-thinking skills can help an innovation consultant bring logic and structure to the sometimes ambiguous challenges that clients present to them.

  • Business understanding: An understanding of why businesses succeed can help innovation consultants identify the challenges that their clients face and propose appropriate solutions.

Read more: Innovation Skills: Definition and Examples

How to become an innovation consultant

Innovation consultants often come from a variety of backgrounds. However, if you're interested in becoming an innovation consultant, consider these basic steps to get started:

1. Get an education

Many innovation consultants start their careers by attaining bachelor's degrees in a field related to business. These degrees can include business administration, finance, marketing or project management. Many also complete master's degrees in one of these fields. These degrees can give you the knowledge of business concepts that may help you succeed as an innovation consultant.

2. Gain work experience

Most innovation consultants are senior-level business professionals, often with extensive experience in marketing, administration, development, sales or consulting. Consider securing an entry-level job in one of these fields after completing your degree. Working in these fields can help you develop the ability to use business concepts in the real world and build your resume.

3. Develop proficiency

In order to be a more competitive candidate, it may be helpful for you to develop some of the skills that innovation consultants use daily. These skills can include data analysis, product development, marketing, messaging, employee development and customer interaction. Consider additional duties or new roles you could pursue in order to build your skill set. You can also search for classes and seminars that explore these topics to develop your abilities outside of work. Developing a wide range of skills can help you become adaptable enough to be an effective innovation consultant.

Related: How To Encourage Innovation in the Workplace (With Examples and Tips)

4. Build a portfolio

One of the first things many firms look for when hiring innovation consultants is a portfolio that shows a history of success. A portfolio is a compilation of the successful projects you have developed, and it can illustrate your abilities as a business leader in the field. Before you look for jobs as an innovation consultant, ensure you have a tangible record of your projects and references to verify them. You can include references from former employers, records of products or projects you helped launch and records of any classes or seminars that you attended.

5. Network

Building a network can help you connect with more potential clients and build your portfolio. Try attending industry networking events and conferences to meet professionals in the field who may be able to refer you to companies seeking innovation consultants. Maintain communication with your network connections to continually build your client base and increase your reputation in the field.

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