In Growth & Profit

“The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” – William Pollard

One of the most popular topics in business today is innovation.  If you google innovation, you get about 280 million hits.  If you google innovation in business, you get over 900 million hits.  It’s a topic on everybody’s mind, and we’ve talked about it in this space many times before.

Yet, for all the talk, and all the head nodding I see when the conversation turns to innovation, most organizations are stuck in “because that’s how we’ve always done it” mode.  There are probably a lot of reasons, but  deep down most people I’ve encountered struggle with one of two issues.

First, there are leaders who still really believe (whether because of arrogance or foolishness) that because something has worked in the past it will automatically continue working in the future.  I could write a book ridiculing this (I’m sure it’s been done), but I prefer a version of an old example.  If, 125 years ago, you were in the buggy whip business, life was good.  Horses had been the main method of transportation & heavy labor for thousands of years (Thousands!).  Buggies had been around for several millennia.  You would have had no reason to think that business wouldn’t continue growing with the population.  Fifty years later, your business would have virtually ceased to exist.  

People say, “That can’t happen to us, our industry is a constant, people need what we make, society as we know it would cease to exist without us.”  I’m sure that’s exactly what most of the buggy whip people thought in the late 1800s.  Where are they now?

Second, there are leaders who recognize the importance of innovation and the need for change – they just don’t know how to do it or where to start.   “I’m just not naturally creative,” was an argument I heard a few weeks ago.  That’s OK – you don’t have to do this by yourself.  You just have to surround yourself with innovative, change-minded strategic thinkers and let them help you.  Get involved in a peer group.  Get a coach.  Best of all, use your own people.  Who in your organization are your best innovators?  Get them together regularly and let them innovate.  

One of the best examples of this is a client of ours nearby whose industry has been in decline for some time (again, 100 years ago it would have been inconceivable).  They figured out who their best innovators were and all of them get together with the President and COO once a month.  They sit around the table and do nothing but try to come up with new ideas.  New products, new processes, cultural innovations, etc.  More than one new product (an entire new line, even) exist because of that group’s monthly meetings.

The point is simple.  If you want to be around, you HAVE to be innovative.  It’s not an option on the menu you can choose if you like – it is the menu.  I’ve used this quote before, but I like it now even better than the last time:

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” – General Eric Shinseki

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