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Most people know what innovation is, and most understand that they need to be doing it. But understanding what it looks like in practice, or what the steps are that you need to take to achieve it, can be much more difficult. Saying you need to innovate is all well and good – but where do you start? That’s why many companies turn to innovation consultants to help them get started.

Innovation, by definition, can be a pretty slippery concept, which means that choosing the right innovation consultant for your business isn’t easy. Finding the right consultant can be the difference between a project that transforms a company and one that fails entirely. So how do you choose the right partner? We gathered together some of our thoughts.

Independent advice

Many innovation consultants make strategic partnerships and connections with vendors, suppliers, contractors or agencies, to help companies make a reality of the advice they give. On the surface, this seems like a good thing, but in reality it can influence the quality of the advice and guidance you receive from the innovation partner. If they’re motivated by the need to sell a certain type of technology, solution or third-party service, that means the advice they give can never be truly independent. A real innovation consultant should give you clear, unbiased and relevant ideas, not simply try and sell you a software license or third-party service.  

In the short term, it may seem like a good bargain to get the consultation and execution packaged together as a single service. But the best innovation consultants are those that can take a detailed look at your processes and objectives, offering a frank and unbiased judgement of what’s needed to achieve your goals.

A boost, not a crutch

Innovation consultants should be seen as a resource that helps push us forward, provide third party neutrality or brings some key knowledge we would have taken too long to otherwise acquire. Innovation consultants however, should not become permanent fixtures of any organisation or project. An effective innovation consultancy should follow the mantra ‘teach a man to fish’; empowering clients to create sustainable innovation for themselves. If a consulting partner is trying to generate repeat work, or pushing you towards a retainer contract, it could be a sign they haven’t got your best interests at heart.

An agile mindset

Innovation means something different to everybody. For some, that might mean digital transformation; unveiling a new website, app or platform to help consumers better access their services. For others, it might require a forensic analysis of internal processes and supply chains, ensuring better quality or value for money. One of the most valuable skills an innovation consultant can have is an open mind – and the ability to quickly adapt to different situations and contexts.

Agility is a vital prerequisite if you want to find a successful partner. Naturally, larger organisations struggle with this more, tending to get encumbered by processes and established conventions that operate too much on the assumption of a right and wrong way of doing things. But it’s not just about size; it’s about whether the company prioritises innovation, dynamic thinking and finding new solutions to problems. Agility can be difficult to find in a good innovation consultant – but is a valuable quality when you do.

Diversity of thought

When embarking on a new project or innovative strategy, many falsely assume that a good consultant is a specialist; someone with knowledge of their current situation and a ready-made solution. Those who work in finance for instance, might think that a finance specialist is the solution to their problems. In some circumstances this might be helpful, but much of the time this leads to narrow mindedness, and an assumption that there is an established way of doing things.

In fact, it’s the consultants that work across the broadest remit that have the greatest diversity of thoughts and ideas. It’s only by drawing comparisons across different industries and use cases that a specialist can come up with truly new and innovative solutions to problems.

Finding the right innovation consultant for you

If you’re not sure about how to find the right consultant, we hope these points will give you a firm basis to start searching. At Spark Works, we find that the attributes we discussed in this blog are the things that our clients most value, because they ensure our advice is fiercely independent, thoroughly researched and completely honest. At Spark Works, we take innovation seriously.


If you want to find out more about planning your innovation with us, get in touch with our consultants today.

Alan Cabello
Senior Partner
Alan holds a PhD from EPFL focused on human-centred innovation processes, having been a Visiting Researcher at Stanford’s and a participant at Potsdam HPI’s He also holds a M.Sc. in Management and a Dip.Eng. in Mechatronics. He is a co-founder of Spark Works, CEO of Sparkademy, sits on the board of a couple of start-ups and lectures at ETHZ.
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