It's Time To Leave The Building

May 19th 2015

Innovation is full of surprises, that might scare you.

Over the past decade I’ve seen my fair share of attempts at innovation. Everything from incremental enhancements, through to bold attempts at disruptive innovation. One thing stands true, innovation is full of surprises that NO company ever prepared for. And often, scares the c#$% out of them. The key to getting 'ideas' right is to make sure you really understand who you are innovating for by getting out amongst your consumers.

A frequent journey I have with clients involves working with ambitions to stretch the organisation into new dimensions, often driven by the desperate desire to avoid being disrupted themselves.

Disrupt or be disrupted.

Nobody wants to go the way of Borders, Blockbuster or Kodak. Businesses that went bankrupt while their core industry grew a hundred fold.

My clients always start with the best intentions, and always make an effort to put skin in the game. I make a conscious effort to help companies avoid the Innovation for PR chasm that has swallowed so many over the past five years.

Innovation for innovation's sake doesn't fool anyone.

After a decades work, I now have a solid framework for the core success factors of capability, culture and collaboration, while adding a recent ‘C’, context.

Get out of the building - get true context

I spent the early part of my career working in a customer service call centre for a bank. Each day I'd be exposed to the problems and needs of over a hundred customers. This frequent first-hand experience gave me my first insights into empathy and further, I'd travel on occasion to customer sites so that I could get face to face with the people who interacted with our services. This made me realise that product managers and marketers should be making the same active effort to regularly meet with customers in their own environment. In other words, get out of the building!

You might be thinking: Aren't businesses already sending their sales teams into the field every day? And what about focus groups; aren't those really good customer development experiences? These activities can be, and in fact are, hugely valuable but none of these approaches are as complete, direct and un-corrupted as walking out into the world to observe and engage customers.

The four C's

Getting the right mix of these (capability, culture and collaboration, context) continues to prove the secret to success. But, it comes with a warning. When these things work productively together, they lead to questions about your core business. Questions that you might not like answering. Questions that expose disruption opportunities, or fundamental ‘achilles heels’. These questions often require a debate around incumbent versus new business. A conversation that the traditional organisation is going to struggle with, as performance targets and bonus structures are challenged.

Name me one P&L owner that has fallen on his sword for the greater good of the company’s future?

Executives at Borders, Blockbuster and Kodak all had awareness of the challenges they faced. But were unable to respond, to shift the structure of the organisation’s incumbent ways in time to respond new market entrants or changes in consumer performance benchmarks. You’d think we’ve all learnt our lesson. But still today, despite clear indicators, executive struggle with the surprises that scare them. Are you prepared to question the incumbent business? In a publicly listed company, awareness alone could be looked back on as neglect.

Asking the hard questions and innovating to solve the real problems of your custumors is the secret to long term relevance, it's not a quick fix, but it the only way!

 

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