Innovation is a word that is bantered about unwittingly by many. From its Latin root, it generally means to renew or change. Yet, many reduce innovation to invention—as in product-specific concepts come to fruition and production. If we faithfully apply the definition, innovation may be seen to pertain to any ideas to effect positive change that go from origination to transformation to implementation to systemization within an organization.
To make the mental transition from viewing innovation as invention to what it really is, one must see innovation as culturally transformative. What was can no longer be what is, and certainly not what shall be. Change is hard for many people. Making a commitment to continuous change can be downright overwhelming. Yet, choosing to take action when others are stagnant can create tremendous strategic advantage. Look at Steve Jobs and Apple after the dotcom bust of the new millennium. As others shrank from R&D, fearful that the technology boom was forever dead, his group increased investment in innovation and they have prospered for it. Think Apple and technology are an isolated company/industry? Explain away the following mix of companies founded during poor economies: Disney, CNN, Hyatt, Burger King, FedEx, Gillette, AT&T, Merck, Coors, IHOP, Fortune, GE, and the Jim Henson Company.
During the agricultural age, the asset everyone wanted was land and the critical success factor was yield. Agriculture gave way to industry with manufacturing and processing facilities and their efficiency defining success. As information became a greater commodity than industry, computers and their speed became the yardsticks. Today, in the creative age, innovation is the key asset and, as a means of differentiation, determines ultimate success.
If your organization is to remain/become competitive in the current world economy and proliferation of information sharing, it is unlikely to do so without making a commitment to continuous improvement. Again, so as to not confuse this phrase with the Deming’s work in documenting kaizen approaches to manufacturing in Japan, let’s define what is meant. We are speaking here of a core value within an organization to not accept the status quo—to not become complacent.
In a Business Week survey conducted in conjunction with the Boston Consulting Group in 2008, it was noted that total shareholder return (TSR) was greater over a three, five, and ten year period among business model innovators versus their industry peers. Notice that it was those who innovated their business model rather than those who tried to hold onto their old one who prospered! TSR was greater among global innovators than the S&P 1200, greater among U.S. innovators than the S&P 500, greater among European innovators than the S&P Euro 350, and greater among Asian innovators than the S&P Asian composite.
“Wealth flows from innovation not from optimization. Wealth is not created from perfecting the known, but imperfectly seizing the unknown.”
-Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired
In 1989, Smith Corona had annual sales of $500 million, producing typewriters. Word processing and computerization overtook their market position and they could not innovate fast enough to ride the wave. Jeremy Gutsche of trendhunter.com says, “Be wary of your strengths; success leads to complacency.” He maintains that, over time, most people stop trying. Need convincing?
- “We own that market.”
- “He’s been a client forever.”
- “She’s already my girlfriend.”
Gutsche cites each of these statements as examples of a pervasive attitude of entrenchment. Since most people are risk averse, we have learned to polish the “spin” on our actions and speak glibly of “tweaking” and “optimizing.” Instead, successful people and organizations must learn to pursue that which is splendid, unique, and paradigm-changing.
The secret, though, is to not just produce an innovative product or service; to not just culturally innovate, but to commit to innovation and change continuously. Daunting? You bet it is! How can you lead yourself and others to protect the value that innovation has created? How can change be “maintained?” This is a rhetorical question—it can’t! Change cannot be maintained—it must itself be changed to remain responsive, relevant & vibrant!!!