From art to food to fashion, France is known for excellence in many areas. But did you know that the French are also at the head of the pack when it comes to innovation? In fact, according to the Economist, "France has more business startups than anywhere else in Europe."

Says Michelle Greenwald, Founder & CEO of Inventours--a company that conducts immersive innovation programs for company executives and leaders--"To innovate, sometimes you need to leave the office to benchmark across different industries in different countries for relevant analogies."

From trusting your intuition to focusing on quality over quantity, making creative use of technology, making mundane tasks like data research into fun, and anticipating customers' unspoken needs, global businesses can learn valuable lessons from five of France's top innovators.

1. Trust your intuition more than trends

The French know to trust their intuition over any fads or trends. While it may seem counterintuitive, according to Nicolas Berger, co-founder and Director of La Manufacture Du Chocolat d'Alain Ducasse, one of the basic keys to being innovative is to stay true to yourself and your company identity. "Establish and maintain your own vision of what your brand stands for," he says. "Stay unique and faithful to that brand vision, and don't be tempted to become like competitors."

2. Focus on quality over quantity

Americans often tend to take a "more is more" approach, but leading French innovators, including David Lowes--SVP Dressings, Unilever--advise otherwise. "The driving principle behind our innovation at Maille is 'quality over quantity'," he says. "That way we ensure we continue to deliver authentically French, beautifully crafted goods made with passion and flair."

3. Make use of modern technology

Tailoring might not seem like an industry ripe for technological innovation, but Francois Chambaud, co-founder of Les Ateliers Nouveaux founded a company which makes custom men's suits using in-store body scanners. Chambaud suggests embracing technology, and looking to see where you can implement it in unexpected ways. This could include allowing your customers to participate in the creative process in fun and engaging ways or to create more satisfying experiences that your clients will want to share with others virally, which in turn helps market your brand.

4. Make data research fun

We all know that today's decisions are made stronger when backed up by smart data, but the French know that utilizing data should be all play and not work. According to Maurice Ndiaye, Partner, Synomia Innovative Data Analytics Firm, "If you still have to work for your data, we believe that something is wrong with your organization, because the time has come where data works for you. Playing with data can finally be seamless and fun, so that you can focus on the result: innovation and decision making."

5. Anticipate your customer's unspoken needs

According to Chris Thoen, Sr. VP/ Global Head of Flavor Science Technologyat Givaudan, the world's leading flavor and fragrance company, the best way to find your next innovation is to listen intently to customers. Customer "needs and desires drive our innovation," says Thoen. "The key is to listen so closely that you actually begin to anticipate future needs. Consumer and market insights help us to see beyond the here and now so we can propose solutions to needs that our customers haven't yet articulated."

Published on: Aug 30, 2015