Friday, May 25, 2012

Innovation: Speed as an enabler, feature, benefit

Over the last few days I've been writing about the relationship between speed, velocity and innovation.  So far we've decided that velocity matters (velocity is speed in a specific direction) because the pace of the market is increasing, and as it increases product lifecycles become shorter, meaning new products and services must be introduced more rapidly and more frequently simply to maintain competitive position.  Yesterday I made some suggestions about how "fast" you should innovate.  The idea being that an intentional plan for innovation across a range of outcomes (incremental to disruptive) and product, service, experience and business model types is important.  Without an intentional plan, without clear goals, innovation doesn't happen, and when it doesn't happen your organization is likely to find itself further and further behind the competition.

The problem with the concept of working "at speed" is that most organizations have a pace or rate at which they like to work and are comfortable working.  In fact, as bureaucracy and organizational inertia sets in, speed and velocity take a back seat to meetings, discussions, committees and approval cycles.  Most organizations aren't currently designed or built for speed or velocity.  They are highly optimized to deliver a narrow set of products and services they understand very well, but have little ability to pivot and accelerate in new or different directions, and little capability to manage new ideas at speed.  My book, Relentless Innovation, describes what I'll call the tyranny of "business as usual".  Most organizations have reached the pinnacle of efficiency and effectiveness just as innovation, velocity and inventiveness become paramount.

The interesting opportunity that presents itself to any organization willing to increase its velocity through innovation is that speed is an enabler to business objectives, a feature to your clients and customers and provides benefits to your firm as well.  While many organizations fear working at a higher speed or velocity, speed can actually improve your results and help your organization sustain its position in the market, if not radically improve it.  I should note that I've made a distinction between speed and velocity, as velocity is speed in a specific direction, but for the purpose of this post I'll just stick with speed.

Speed as an enabler
Larger organizations recognize their "need for speed" but fear the transition and consequences.  A large organization has a culture and bureaucracy with a mind (and a pace) of its own.  Trying to tweak the process for a bit more speed here or there is a significant challenge. Any bureaucracy, firmly established, resists changes.  Further, from a distance working at speed looks dangerous.  There's not enough foresight, so firms worry about driving further than their "headlights" can illuminate.  Working at speed is risky because we'll ask the organization to do things at a pace it is unfamiliar with, and that may have impacts on output and quality.  On the whole, most organizations will revert to the existing pace.  However, adopting a new pace can be an enabler to further opportunities and growth.

Maintaining your existing pace will mean working to a rate that existed as the business matured and as the bureaucracy dictates.  However, your internal pace isn't valuable or interesting to the market, which is constantly speeding up.  The market and competition dictate the pace, and firms must struggle to keep up.  But speed is an enabler if your organization makes a commitment to speed, through improving internal capabilities, shortening product development cycles and building innovation capabilities to bring new products to market at an increased pace.  Speeding up your internal pace doesn't have to lower quality or create more mistakes - but it will require more research, more insight and more planning.  Working at increased speeds means your firm must become far more proactive in the market, rather than reactive to the market, and good innovators are constantly trying to understand and assess needs in the market to predict opportunities, rather than attempt to simply respond to them.

Speed as a feature
As you accelerate your internal capabilities and innovation processes, speed is no longer a risky venture but becomes a feature of your products and services.  Your clients and customers grow accustomed to a new level of productivity and a pleasantly surprised by meaningful products and services delivered at an increased rate.  You can then market your capability as a firm that delivers at a much higher velocity, which has meaning for your customers, who also understand the pace of change is accelerating.

Speed as a benefit
But we all know that you sell the sizzle, not the steak, and speed isn't just a feature, but a benefit.  As your innovation capabilities and internal product development skills improve, you arrive first to the market, in the right markets, with the right products, at the right time.  This means greater market share, more market awareness and more attention paid to what your firm does.  Wouldn't your firm benefit from the free marketing that Apple or Google benefit from?  Innovators define markets, and disrupt markets, and benefit from more than their fair share of market coverage and awareness. As your firm gets faster, it becomes a better competitor, with better margins not from excellent efficiencies (although that can't hurt) but from being able to command higher margins.  And, once you can work at higher velocities you force your competitors to change and adapt. 

Can innovation really drive these benefits?  Yes.  Look no further than P&G or 3M if you care not to look at Apple or Google.  Innovation creates more market awareness, more visibility to relevant, important ideas that matter, and an improved ability to bring products to market more quickly and effectively.  If you want speed, and frankly, who doesn't, implement a real innovation capability - innovate your product development process and create a viable "front end" innovation capability.  The increased innovation capability will deliver greater speed, which will have enormous benefits.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:45 AM


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