In Change, Leaders

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand.  The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” – William Pollard

One of the most important things an organization can understand about itself is what is its advantage in the marketplace.  For some organizations it might be price, for others quality, for others service, etc.  The problem with all of those is that in today’s world things change so quickly that it’s almost impossible to maintain those advantages.  As soon as you think you’ve got it made, somebody else comes along who can do whatever you do best even better.

I really believe that the only truly long term competitive advantage in today’s world is the ability to be innovative.  That innovation might show up publicly in your ability to win on price, or quality, or service, or whatever.  But whatever those shorter term advantages are, they will only last if you have the ability to improve them over and over and over again.

So how can you be more innovative?  After all, innovation isn’t just something you’re born with.  Companies who are innovative behave in certain ways that encourage innovation at every level.  I could list a bunch of them, but here are three innovation-encouraging behaviors I’ve seen in the past month:

Regular brainstorming.  One of our clients gets a group together from throughout the business for a once-a-month brainstorming meeting.  Nothing is off limits, nothing gets judged.  Do you take time to think?  Do your people take time to think?  Sometimes “thinking” is viewed as “not working”.  Make sure your people know they have permission to stop and think.

Learn from failures.  Someone once said nothing is a failure if you learn from it.  When things don’t go the way you’d hoped, do you learn from it?  Do you take the time to think about what went wrong and why?  And how you might improve?  Or do you just sweep it away and try to forget about it.  When learning from failure becomes part of your culture, you find yourself starting to…

Encourage failure.  Yes, I understand you can’t fail all the time.  And yes, I understand that certain failures can be more painful than whatever you might learn from it.  But because people’s natural inclination is to think that failure results in punishment, sometimes you have to go to extremes in the other direction to encourage risk-taking.  An Indian software company rewards the top 20 or so ideas of its people every year.  It also rewards the top 20 or so failures.  And both get the similar rewards.  The point being, you failed, but you took a calculated risk, executed your plan, and when it failed, the organization learned something valuable from it.

Are you innovative?  I’m not just talking about new products here either.  Are you constantly looking for ways to improve everything you do?  Marketing?  HR?  Finance?  Are you creating an environment that encourages people to be innovative?  Or are you missing your chance to have a truly long term sustainable competitive advantage?


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