Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Expecting or Reacting to innovation

I'm a bit mystified this morning, mystified by the fact that so many people I interact with are constantly talking about innovation, and how often they are surprised by it or overtaken by events.  The word innovation seems to be on everyone's lips, is constantly in the news, but somehow the concepts behind these words never go beyond the surface.  Why is it that smart people who are constantly speaking about innovation and hearing about innovation are so often overtaken by innovation?

I'm of the opinion that many people in the business world have sacrificed a significant portion of the proactive selves in order to operate in as efficient a manner as possible.  Years, no decades of work on right-sizing, outsourcing, Lean, Six Sigma and a host of other solutions has made modern business exceptionally efficient, and exceptionally reactive.  We no longer seem to possess the entrepreneurial spirit, risking even a little bit to gain even more.  Instead many people seem content to file an exception report when things go wrong, and take corrective action to remediate any issue.

It's time to get proactive

In the recent past, when you might have had a chance to respond quickly to a competitor's new offering, being reactive to innovation made some sense.  You could wait for someone else to prove a technology or market, establish price points and channels, and then swoop in after the market was proven.  Let someone else take the risk was the mantra.  Those days are over.

In those days you had a handful of well-known competitors and a much more slowly evolving market.  Today, you have dozens of competitors, popping up and disappearing all the time, in all regions, and the pace of change and customer expectations have both accelerated.  You cannot win by waiting.  You must shift your innovation perspective from reacting to innovation to expecting to lead.


Setting and living out expectations is vital in any human endeavor.  Understanding the level, intensity and scope of work helps people gear up for the work to come.  When we allow passive, reactive expectations to creep into our thinking, we sacrifice a lot of opportunity.  As noted, in the past that may not have been a problem, but now it is. 

Executives and managers need to set the tone.  We need to create new expectations about our business models and how we'll compete.  We need to be far more proactive, exploring new opportunities, discovering new technologies and taking new risks.  There are far more companies doing this far more regularly than you expect.

Introducing a mind shift

What we are talking about here is a mind shift, shifting from a more passive and reactive model of thinking about innovation (which is what allows smart people who hear about innovation to be constantly surprised by it) to a much more proactive, risk-taking model of thinking about innovation, constantly asking what innovation is next and how do we win.  This means, and you know this, a lot of innovation success is tied to corporate and organizational thinking, communications, goal setting and culture.  The culture that embraces movement, change, uncertainty, exploration and proactive innovation is the one that is going to survive.  Those companies where the cultures resist these concepts are in a bad way.

If we queried your teams, what would they say is their state of readiness and expectation?  Would they say they are capable of reacting to innovation when they see it, or would they say they are taking the steps to proactively introduce innovation?  This simple question may tell you all you need to know about the future success of your organization.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:30 AM


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