Innovate or Die
Picture the scene. A CEO that says to himself “we’re behind the curve here, we need to keep up with the competition and gain a competitive edge, our technology is archaic – I’m going to create an innovation team”
The business spends months interviewing and choosing the crack team that’s not only going to bring the business into the 21st century but then take them ahead of the competition. The team is chosen. These are the best people for the job. You’ve just hired the equivalent of what James Dyson was to vacuum cleaners and what Gary Vee is to social media marketing to your shiny new innovation team. This team is going to be working on important strategic business problems and utilising the newest and best technology to do it.
12 months later, you’re still working on that old creaking system. Nothing has changed and your business is £500k worse off than last year.
What went wrong?
Well, in my experience, innovation teams rarely fail because of a lack of talent or ideas. It’s usually to do with how the innovation function in a business interacts with the rest of the company and, unfortunately, the reason most new enterprises in a business fall flat on the ground, politics and funding.
Intent is clearly critical with any new business initiative. However, the death knell of many businesses is people in power being happy with the status quo and being afraid of change. Failure to get buy-in from all stakeholders means competing budgets and competing ideas of what success looks like. Success to some people is the ability to turn up tomorrow and do the same thing they did yesterday and today. Addressing and rooting out that resistance to change and antipathy in a business is vital. Being able to identify and address it early means that innovation can happen.
Who makes the decisions? The early stages in any new innovative enterprise bring no shortage of ideas and opportunities. But how does a business decide what to pursue? What makes the most sense, quickly? Spreading yourself too thin whilst you follow many trails often means coming up short. The problem is usually because of a lack of direction and a clear understanding of key company objectives. What is the most important thing to a company and what are the short-, medium- and long-term goals? Without that being understood, early in the process, you’ll just be going round in circles.
How do you measure success? Whilst all businesses operate some level of performance management, well they should do anyway, creating a new function such as innovation can cloud measures of success. What is deemed a success? Is it based on productivity, profitability, competitiveness or something else? Having this understood and agreed early on in the process is key but often neglected or misunderstood.
Understanding that conflict can arise when there are competing agendas in the business. When you’re used to doing something in a certain way for 10 years and someone tells you to do it differently, how do you react? Too many businesses think innovation just happens because you hire a load of specialists and let them get on with their job. In reality, innovation works best when every single employee makes small and consistent changes to their day-to-day role to make it easier. Innovation specialists can help but they are by no means a guarantee of success.
Innovation doesn’t always mean new. It can just mean looking at the problem and solving it by putting existing pieces together in a different original way. But having the courage to take the risks and invest in new technology can bring great rewards if you do it well. If you don’t, it’ll just leave a big hole in your bottom line and people still doing the same thing they’ve always done. Listen to advice, take action and most importantly, don’t be afraid to do things differently.
Written By Mario Christofides
Mario is the founder of Be Free Academy, a sales training and coaching business helping you do more of what you're good at using an easy-to-learn 7 step sales process.