Get any group of friends together and as the evening wears on it is a fair chance that sooner or later the subject will turn to reminiscing and to asking ‘where are they now’. Old friends, favourite TV shows, pop groups; whatever the topic our memories linger in the warmth of past connections.
Nowadays a quick internet trawl can often help us to catch up with friends in chat rooms or with old TV favourites on download but there are some things which can’t be recaptured. For example, if I were to create a list of some of the most iconic companies of the 20th Century I would have to add ‘vanished’ beside a fair few names. And the sad thing is that many of these names didn’t vanish because their product was poor; they didn’t even fail because of a fire or other major disaster; they were simply casualties of a tide of innovation which swept them aside and left them floundering in its wake.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”
The current sweeping through 21st Century business is that of innovation. Continuous innovation, innovation flow, disruptive or radical innovation; call it what you will but the pace of change is ever upwards and businesses which are not set up to adapt are set for a fall or indeed, are already falling! We can no longer take months or years in testing before bringing a product to market; we can no longer assume that because a product or service is popular now it will be as successful in the future. The choice is quite simple; build innovation capability or fail. The challenge for senior teams is to infuse innovation capability into the organisation in a way in which every strategic decision, every process, every thought is geared towards innovation and towards creating amazing experiences for people and customers alike. No longer can innovation be acutely focused on product alone because the next wave of innovation is firmly centred on building experiences for customers and consumers.
But hold on; before you rush out and hold a meeting instructing everyone to think innovation for the future we have to ask if you really understand where you are now? What currently drives the organisation; what is its ethos, what are its values and how does the culture reflect internally and externally? It’s a bit like the man who was asked for directions and replied, ‘well if I were you I wouldn’t start from here’; if you don’t know where you are then you haven’t a hope of moving on.
So infusing innovation capability into an organisation starts with evaluation; evaluation of the now (I call it ‘the position of truth’) and evaluation of the future. Why the future? Quite simply because until you have evaluated and defined expected levels of growth, differentiation and competitive advantage, you won’t be able to plan for a move towards innovation maturity. Understanding the gap between where you are now and where you want to be will define the training, knowledge and capability, which need to be built into the organisation.
Evaluation may take time, it may mean asking some hard questions and it may mean receiving some uncomfortable answers. Only once this discovery phase has passed can an organisation truly set sail on the voyage towards innovation maturity. But there is one other factor, which will help the business to sink or swim in the innovation pond. That is the way in which employees embrace an innovation culture. And it won’t happen overnight. Innovation capability means working together, it means cross-fertilisation of ideas, it means changing thought processes from hidebound rules, hierarchies and ‘making it easy for me’ and into flexibility and creating differentiated experiences. Some will embrace the change readily; others will need a lot of coaching. Looking for quick wins will help to kick-start the change but training and coaching will play a large part in success.
Evaluating, training, coaching, does it all seem too much? If it does then you can expect your business voyage to be bound in shallows and in miseries; whilst others sail past, buoyed up on a tide of innovation, new business models and differentiated customer experiences.
Everyone says they want or need to drive innovation but few actually do. If you want to be one of the few and you’ve got a question, ask Cris on email@example.com or visit www.crisbeswick.com for more information.