Marketing in the internet time. Part 8. Innovation in the digital era
If you want to innovate, then avoid tomtom behavior.
How does innovation in the digital era look like? Different than before? Is success of innovation in the digital era predictable? Is there something like a business logic for innovation? For real new business there are very limited cases.
There are no market examples where you can look at. Competitors or colleagues are not in front of you and the way customers will react is also a surprise. The pace of change is higher, faster feedback, which means shorter development cycles, so perhaps first time right is not always possible anymore.
Successful innovation logic must, for that reason, not be looked for in that direction. The idea, however, that you can make better decisions with more information has long been refuted by psychologists. You could conclude that it is not wise to innovate and, for example, choose the position of fast follower. Then you do not have this problem. This is, by the way, the conclusion a lot of big companies in the Netherlands and Germany draw, given the popularity of the risk-free best practice approaches, preached by many consultancy firms.
Best practices, next practices
If you choose for best practice, you will be in the second position at the most, and not the winner, because someone does this already. Best practice is a copycat strategy. Operational Excellence (TQM, lean, six sigma), as strategic choice often associated with best practice, is not innovative but a way to reduce the costs of a company. Thereby, quoting Hamel & Prahalad- “just correcting past mistakes”.
Best practices are essentially a control and improvement approach, just adapting to an alread existing framework. You pull yourself, as an organization, through an elsewhere proven ‘fries chipper’, where people are reduced to fries. This kind of improvement may, of course, enhance the competitive power of the company for a short while but it has nothing to do with innovation. By the way, most people do not like being a ‘french frie’ and being treated like nuts and bolts.
For me, the ‘tomtom’ navigation is a perfect metaphor for this strategy. The ‘tomtom’ always leads you through main roads, the tomtom effect. To see new things however, you should not be on these roads. Innovation is always on the edge, the new roads you have never been before.
There has never been so much space for different views and perspectives and conceptual destinations, but at the same time we are so terribly hyper and we all walk past the same themes continuously. The ‘tomtom’ as a mental wind tunnel.
If you want to innovate, avoid this ‘tomtom behavior’.
So, for innovation we don’t need best practices. We need next practices. One way to do this is to study other branches then your branch. Most of the innovation in an industry comes from outside that industry.
In fact, this is a symptom of the emergence of new combinations. So, if you only pay attention to your own branche, you just do not see the innovation coming. Just paying attention to your own industry is not a good strategy and usually puts you in a reactive mode to adapt to what others have seen earlier.
Consilience, the ability to understand and translate patterns, developments and changes in other domains for your branche is vital to stay on top of things.
Bottom-up innovation, and customer-driven innovation, for example launching customers as known from airplane constructors, is much more effective and more successful than management-driven top-down innovation. So go and listen to the customer and to the employees on the work floor. Stop disempowering the colleagues there, and let them innovate. They are very good in it.
Innovative companies are generally companies who understand the core of their value as a business well (core excellence) through insight in their real competences. They do not have an ego-driven complexity and are thus capable of acting with serene simplicity and with focus.
Real innovative companies have it in their genes, by the way. They have the ability to constantly innovate.
Just a question. Does your company honour innovators? Are they in the board? Do they have a budget and decision power?
Often, if people think of innovation they think of complex and expensive projects. Weird. Succesful innovations usually excel in simplicity. Think of the wheel, the paper clip, the Post-it, the Fosburry flop or the “rizer of horses”, an absolute killer application for a new way of warfare in the Middle Ages. These inventions demonstrate that understanding and insight most of the time leads to serene simplicity and sustainable solutions. You just can’t imagine there are not there once they are.
The innovative mind is willing to look a little different at things, from a different angle. Think different. Innovation Always starts ‘between the ears’.
By the way, do you encourage this skill, this attitude, in your organization? Do you honor your innovators in the company? Are they making a career or are you just tolerating them? Is the boss of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation an innovator?
Innovation never occurs on the main roads in the best practice mainstream. Best practice aproaches always lead you along the main road. Innovators go their own way, never follow the advised route, no matter how famous the source is. In mainstream magazines such as Harvard Business Review, you will almost never find innovations. Their current review process and their need to have exposure really excludes this. Real innovation can be found much closer to home.
Let others find you an ‘original’. Only then you will gain new experiences, experience space, unexpected discoveries and undergo new adventures.
Consult artists! They learn us to see the world through different eyes, from different view points: the creative economy.
Let others take the main road. I hope you take yours. Innovate and enjoy your space.
And as always: do as much nothing as possible.