There still exist products that are (mostly) the same as they’ve always been that are still valued and still purchased. They’re almost all commodities with low margins or offerings in stagnant markets, but they exist and many billions are made selling them. That’s a lot of money to spread around, so maybe innovation doesn’t matter to your business. Today.
Today, the world is changing. Today, we’re seeing even the most entrenched products and services bow to marketplace disruption. Today, even these protected products are losing ground to delivery, production, and sales channel innovations.
You’ve heard that before. Evolve or die. Do you believe it? You want to nod your head and say yes, because that makes you look smart. Because you are smart.
But, honestly, this threat of future death sounds far away, indeterminate, not urgent. Not a today problem. Today problems are the killers. Today problems need to be solved today so you stay alive today.
Yes. Yes it does. Evolution just happens. And species die and new ones take prominence. That also just happens. And maybe you get to be one of them if you don’t evolve and innovate like a champ. You get to choose—be an innovation chump or an innovation champ.
We all are. At least, that’s what it says on the culture values document posted here and there and framed on the wall of the executive conference room. We have a culture of innovation at Company XYZ, so we all innovate! Hurrah!
What’s great about everyone owning innovation is that if we aren’t doing our part, we can have faith that dozens of others are doing the innovating for us. But there’s a problem with that, because everyone gets to think that. Especially the people in middle management and the front lines watching the senior team’s commitment (or not) to innovation. Especially everyone, really, that has goals and incentives that run contrary to the necessary pre-conditions for a vibrant, revenue-generating innovation culture.
Who should that be? That depends on your business model. Are you product-driven, sales-driven, or market-driven? What level of innovation does your business need to evolve and not die?
The more complex the innovation, the more risk and the more time it takes. The more risk and the more time it takes, the more long-term upside for the business if it works. Here’s some levels to illustrate.
In general, the winner in your competitive landscape is the business that successfully executes the most complex innovation. For an example of how that works, look no further than Netflix (business model innovation) and Blockbuster (process innovation). Guess who won that battle?
The leader who excels in process innovation is not the same leader who excels in market innovation is not the same leader who excels in business model innovation. Hence, the leadership you need is dictated by your strategy. There’s a little more to it than that because a business model innovation strategy is likely to encompass market and product innovations. And a market and product innovation strategy is likely to encompass process innovations. And you need the right leadership for all of it. This is rarely a one-dimensional decision.
If you want to win, it’s time to go from complaisance to change agent in your product innovation strategy. It’s time to build a whole innovation system– a culture of innovation—before your biggest competitors beat you to it. Start with these steps:
I'm Alicia Parr. I am a fractional Chief People Officer and organizational engineer for growth businesses making the leap from small to mid-sized. I use people science and a coaching orientation to solve hairy people problems and navigate the speedbumps of fast growth. I can help you and your business be even greater than you already are. Join the conversation below by commenting or contact me directly.