For my first blog of 2013 I thought I’d share an article I wrote in my capacity as strategic advisor on innovation at www.cultureconsultancy.com for The Women in Banking and Finance Organisation (WIBF).
Ever wondered why so many big companies, despite all the effort, couldn’t actually innovate? As an ex-designer, my perspective is; they simply aren’t designed to innovate. It’s ironic but we operate in a world where small entrepreneurial start-ups want the size, momentum and trappings they associate with big corporates, whilst big corporates are frantically trying to act smaller and drive ‘intrapreneurship’ to counteract the deadly status quo.
Like designers, a start-up and its people aren’t benchmarked on quarterly targets or EBITDA, they are measure on how well they answer the problem or need they set out to solve. Unfortunately as we all know, once a company has solved its initial problem or created a product, it is quickly transitioned into a monster of efficiency and scalability. With the insight, discovery and design phase well and truly over, it gears up to deliver what it has instead of continuing to discover what’s next. No longer is the company able to behave differently, quickly losing its agility and the very essence of what it once was.
The systems, processes and procedures that drive efficiency and scale soon become the barriers to the pursuit of innovation and that places it well and truly in the danger zone. Why? Because agility is required for innovation and innovation is the pre-requisite for 21st Century competitive advantage. The problem is that organisations exchange one pursuit for another, transitioning from agile, inquisitive, insight seeking explorers of what’s possible and what’s next to the corporate titanic, focused on delivering huge volume in one direction. Unfortunately in the world we now operate in, a lack of innovation capability will be the ship-sinking iceberg.
Organisations must fully understand innovation and how to capitalise on it or risk the certain, painful and public death we’ve seen others succumb to over the past few years. Innovation has moved from the buzzword de jour to business critical imperative and now must be looked at strategically and company-wide.
Unfortunately, what I see is most organisations preaching about innovation, promoting their innovative approaches and adorning straplines and brands with innovation as the main USP. However, what I experience is something quite different with the majority of it being rhetoric. It’s jumping on the bandwagon and keeping up with the joneses because to not purport to innovate is commercial suicide. I sit in boardrooms of global brands and can tell you, the innovation landscape is far from being embedded in organisational culture. One of the big innovation barriers I see with clients is a reluctance to genuinely pursue excellence and I mean genuinely pursue it not turn up the volume on rhetoric. The Olympics is a great example. No Olympic athlete won a medal by being average. It takes determination, desire, sacrifice and the pursuit of something ‘more’. At best, average companies are incremental so they don’t innovate in meaningful ways. Here’s a fundamental truth I believe in;
“Innovation is a by-product of being exceptional”
In essence, unless you strive to be outrageously good at what you do the chances of being truly different and innovative are remote. There’s also little chance of innovation becoming an embedded part of your companies culture. You don’t get radical, game-changing leaps forward, enter or create new markets by being ‘incrementally’ innovative. In today’s ultra-competitive globalised market place filled with savvy customers, and agile competitors the price of admission is increasing day by day so incremental innovation at best only allows you to keep up with the ever-inflating price of admission. But that’s merely standing still right?
However, I believe there is now little room for innovation, as we’ve historically known it. Big leaps away from competitors are hard to come by and whatever you make or sell can and will be copied with ease. So, when I work with companies and their senior teams on innovation, what we really look at is how to do things differently. Why? Because it’s no longer about ‘what’ you do it’s about ‘HOW’ you do it! Your competitors can copy products along with everyone else but if you get it right, they won’t be able to do it like you do! It’s what I call ‘Differentiated Innovation’.
This means winning is now about how you become ‘Outrageously Good’ at what you do. Creating the right culture and engaging your people to want to be exceptional is what the world’s leading, most admired companies do best, in reality, their innovations are a by-product of their organisational behaviour. They are talent-rich, entrepreneurial communities, collectively passionate about what they do and ‘HOW’ they do it and that’s why we as consumers and peers look at them and brand them innovative.
In order to prosper, drive growth and build value, increasing an organisations ability to innovate (in the right way) is now vital. CEOs and senior teams must overcome their fear of losing control, taking risks and empowering people in order to capitalise on what innovation can deliver. They need to come to terms with the fact that doing things differently may feel uncertain, uncomfortable and even painful, but building a culture of innovation isn’t rocket science it just requires a little change!
For more information or if you have a quation on driving innovation or building it into organisational culture feel free to get in touch.