This month we’ve launched our first open, online course with the University of Leeds. The MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is all about innovation. As a business we’ve been leading the way in innovation since 1884, from pioneering business models to textile technology and from introducing the first chilled chicken to the high street to creating the first recycled wool coat. As Innovation Delivery Manager for M&S it’s my role to support the development of new innovations across our general merchandise business, including clothing and home, to deliver exciting new products for the customer.
Innovation is the responsibility of all M&S’s colleagues– not just those of us with ‘innovation’ in our job title - but for me, innovation is all about collaboration and communication. Communication is essential to supporting the exchange of ideas and sparking creativity. I work with people from all areas of the business - from technologists and designers in our product development teams, to colleagues in our marketing department - to bring different areas of the business together and facilitate the sharing of ideas.
One of the principles for successful innovation is the 50 – 10 – 2 development process. This runs on the basis that you will need 50 ideas, of which 10 will become projects and only two might be real successes. This means that for every project we initiate, we’re encouraging colleagues to think big and take a risk in order to find those two key ideas that will be a real commercial success. We’ve achieved some fantastic innovations over the years, including developing our most sustainable suit so far and our Plan A Abbey sofa.
Our sustainable and ethical plan for the future, Plan A 2020, has acted as a key driver for our innovation strategy and was the inspiration for our Abbey sofa, which was ‘our most sustainable sofa yet’. We worked to ensure that all components of the sofa were sustainably and ethically sourced. The fabric cover is a blend of wool and flax which is naturally flame retardant, natural latex and coconut fibres replace the traditional PU foam, the cushion stuffing is made from recycled plastic bottles, and the frame is FSC approved wood. To make it even more sustainable, it is manufactured in M&S’s first UK Eco Factory. We’ve also launched an old sofa collection service for customers purchasing new M&S sofas to prevent unnecessary waste going to landfill.
But it’s not enough to innovate if you’re not focused on what the consumer wants. Innovation is all about understanding your customers and understanding what they want - before they know they want it.
I’m delighted that we’re able to share some of the secrets of our success in our brand new course, ‘Innovation: The Key to Business Success’. We’ve partnered with the University of Leeds on this online course and we use examples from our history to explore how innovation comes about and how individuals can play a part in making it happen. Whether it’s through developing brand new fabrics or looking at how the fresh food supply chain has influenced what we eat today, the course gives everyone the chance to explore innovation and be inspired to put what they learn into practice in their own role.