For the past few months, we have been navigating unprecedented times. By now, most of us would agree that uncertainty is scary, and the status quo feels much safer. I thought this might be the perfect time to talk about another intimidating subject – one that when not done correctly can also lead to tragedy – innovation.
To make this unique topic more digestible, this blog is organized into a three-part series:
Part 1 talks about the importance of Proactive (strategic) Innovation.
Part 2 explains why innovation might seem so daunting.
Part 3 will guide you through the steps you can take to become a better innovator.
Part 1 of 3: Why Innovate?
Any business that does not innovate runs the risk of falling behind and losing its competitive edge, subsequently losing its consumers and/or employees in the process. In an increasingly cutthroat and fast-paced environment, effectively adapting to change, being the first to navigate uncharted territory, and staying on top of the latest trends leads businesses to chase after innovation as if it were a race. It’s no wonder that economists estimate that 80% of business growth comes from innovation, and that innovation leads to 22% income growth.
While proactive businesses focus on anticipating trends and inventing the future, other businesses wait for the market to be disrupted, and then scramble to find a “me too” fixing. These businesses treat innovation reactively. The problem with this approach is that in order to respond to challenges, companies act under pressure and force innovation upon its employees (and purveyors). Innovation is not simply an end result or a one-stop effort taken to overcome an obstacle, and then abandoned in order to move on with business as usual. An innovation mindset should always be at the forefront of a business’s list of priorities.
Examples of reactive innovation techniques are waiting for customers complaints, sudden sales drops, or responding to a competitor’s most recent move. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these tactics, innovation should be strategic and less about last minute survival schemes.
Proactive innovators, on the other hand, are intentional about innovation. These are the companies that disrupt the market and build the future. Those that strategize to create niches are more customer centric and as a result, grow faster. It has been noted that proactive companies have a higher rate of success than reactive companies. Research demonstrates that the main difference between proactive and reactive companies often lies in the company’s culture. The Corporate Innovation Imperative Report revealed that fostering an internal culture of experimentation and innovation that adapts to change is the top challenge faced by 57% of respondents.
Proactive companies encourage innovation mindsets that nurture creative energy, curiosity, and collaboration among their employees. These mindsets have also been shown to boost employee morale and job satisfaction. Instilling these mindsets is crucial because the longer that employees stay in their comfort zone, the more stagnant they become and the more difficult it will become for a company to innovate. The status quo is further analyzed on Part 2 of this series. For now, just keep in mind that a stagnant organization will kill innovation.
One classic benchmark for culture of innovation is Google. Bill Gates’ tech giant has been credited for popularizing the concept of “20% time.” They not only allow, but actually encourage employees to spend 20% of their time to work on any project they believe they could add value to. And while not all organizations have the resources to install such programs, those that want to innovate must undoubtedly embed innovation into their organizational culture.
Of course, you might think your business endeavor is a far throw from Google, but don’t be discouraged. Although innovation can be difficult for some, any business (no matter how big or small) can use the right tools to take itself to the next level. Part 2 will explain why innovating is so difficult for some organizations. You will find it surprising that lack of resources is not the main barrier.