An exploration of the paradox of corporate innovation environments, discussing how organizations need to break through cynicism, embrace change and encourage innovative thinking for both bottom-line efficiency and top-line growth.
In many organizations, innovation is just an overused buzzword that triggers a sense of skepticism and resistance. When I ask people for stories and examples of what corporate innovation means in their company, I get a hefty dose of cynicism along with the stories.
(cue the cynic) I’ve always been fascinated by resistance to change. It comes out in many ways; there is always another reason to maintain the status quo.
- Please don’t change my process, please don’t change the screens, please don’t update the systems.
- I’ve just about figured it out, and I don’t want anything to change.
- There’s nothing wrong with the old system. Why should I invest any cash (or time, or attention) into an upgrade?
Of course, at the same time these resistors are slow walking ideas and change in the office, they are showing off new smartphones and talking about the latest streaming shows. We are happy to be on technology’s “cutting edge” when we are getting some entertainment value out of it.
(cue the realist) Well, there there’s your answer. If people see the value in making a change, and that value is very clear to them, they will make the shift – quickly. Even though the “cost” might be high – the phone is expensive, I will need time to learn how to use this gadget, it introduces new actions in my established processes, and it changes the fundamental relationship I have with my phone – the change is worth it. (I’ll even stand in long lines to get my hands on it …)
(cue the cynic) Something different happens at home, where I do things because I want to. At work, other forces are in charge of the “correct” way of doing things and the “required way” of doing things. At work, I do things because I have to. And since other people or organizations are telling me the correct way or the required way of doing things, I feel I have little or no control. Once people figure out a way, any way, to deliver on the expectations placed on them, they don’t want anything to change. I just want to give folks what they’re asking for, consistently and seamlessly, the next day and the next.
The Innovation Imperative
Our cynical friend has lasered in on one of the core differences between innovation in our personal and professional worlds. In some ways, the business environment seems to demand a state of zero flux, with predictable inputs & outputs, and consistent requests & responses, from everyone in the market.
Ah, but there’s the sticking point – markets, like the universe, are driven by entropy, constantly changing due to one force or another. Customers ask for new features and functionality, competitors come up with new and different ideas, and we get left in the dust. The macro economy changes the financial rules of the game and forces us to react and change along with it.
In this kind of environment, innovation becomes a powerful tool, a way to match the market’s turbulence by questioning the status quo and thinking differently about how to deliver our traditional level of value –and then some.
For some, innovation is focused on the bottom line. The process is incremental and iterative, making small changes in internal processes to save time, eliminate waste, and reduce costs. Automation and new tools are usually the first solutions people will reach for – we are always looking for a quick fix. Add methodologies like Lean Management or 80/20 can be powerful; sometimes, the best approach is simply to eliminate the work because it does not add value.
Other times, innovation is directed toward the top line. We are looking for different revenue sources, sales growth to transform the company (or to survive till the end of the year.). It’s all about creating new products and services for the customer. These new ideas can be innovative and inspirational, or incremental and iterative. The difference is that innovation on the top line can reach out along the entire value chain, from sourcing and suppliers through all operational areas of your company, ultimately stretching to include your customer and your customer’s customer.
In either case – top line or bottom line – your organization needs new and different kinds of thinking. You can’t keep doing the same thing you’ve already done and expect to get different results. If you’re looking for breakthrough growth at the top line or significant savings on the bottom line, you must think differently. You must become a more innovative organization.
Is “Corporate Innovation” an Oxymoron?
Well, the challenges are certainly not about the why. Market forces will always be there, and there will always be an imperative for change. The key question is “how.” Does your organization have the culture, the tools, and the environment to enable effective innovation?
What frustrations are you experiencing at your organization – let us know in the comments!
6 July, 2023