INNOVATE OR DIE? DON’T GET CAUGHT UP IN THE DRAMA.
“To succeed you must innovate” or something to that effect, is a catchcry that has been echoing through the business landscape for the past decade. Innovate what? Innovate how? We’re peppered with spectacular success stories and shielded from the carcasses of the businesses that have trekked the innovation path, invested everything and failed.
The problem with implementing ‘innovation’ as a lead business strategy is that it is a top down approach, which carries risk and relies on a ‘big idea’ solution to deliver business growth. An idea, which to be truly innovative, is therefore unproven. An idea that is unlikely to take off on its own, instead in most cases it will require a lot of infrastructure and support to get off the ground.
For an established business, your capital is in your proven business practices. It’s unlikely there will be much spare cash to invest in innovation in the first place, as operational costs have a much higher precedence in spending priorities. If you do decide to implement an innovative strategy, you may find that you’re no longer competing in your territory. Not only is an unfamiliar market a risk to consider, you may find unknown competitors, such as small start-ups that have much less to lose and can throw their whole company behind their big idea.
The irony is that many businesses carved out their niche through innovation, so why not advocate for a greater pursuit of this strategy? The fact is that it has its place and you need to understand your business and your current position in the business lifecycle, in order to determine the most appropriate business strategy. An innovative approach is most likely to have great impact in the early days of a business, be it a new product or an entirely new way of operation. Once established, there comes a point when it is necessary to invest in business structure, processes and procedures, therefore the single-minded pursuit of innovation is overridden.
So what happens when you’ve established your business and you’re confident in the marketplace but you’re beginning to feel the pressure from the competition, market conditions and even those younger innovative start-ups? To be forced to innovate because you’re feeling the heat isn’t the best place to be in when you’ve got a lot to lose, so why not dial down the pressure to re-invent your business and give some attention to innovation’s less attractive cousin; adaptation.
Adaptation isn’t as showy as innovation, but it is often more intelligent. Sometimes referred to as incremental innovation, adaptation is a bottom-up approach to business, which is founded on an in-depth understanding of a company’s internal and external environmental factors. Including, most importantly, the evolving needs and wants of the customer.
Take the time to objectively assess your business and ask the questions that may provide insight into existing inefficiencies or new opportunities. Something as simple as implementing an improved ordering system can provide incredible value without the immense risk and investment associated with creating something entirely unique. Sometimes the best approach is to do the same thing, just better.
Another resource that could be tapped into is your network; seek examples of adaptation beyond your business. You may find an entirely different perspective of a problem, or another company may have already implemented a change that you’ve been considering. What works in another industry or customer segment may only require minimal input to be a functional solution in your market.
Although this approach is relatively low risk, there are a still a few pitfalls that should be avoided. A common trap is trying to jump on board of every new fad or trend. A vast amount of time and resources can be wasted trying to keep up with every change in the market and it can be difficult to resist the hype. Every fad that captures your excitement should be carefully measured against business objectives.
If growth is driven through a constant process of analysis and adaptation, your business will benefit from a solid foundation of best-practice operations that is defined by the core drivers of your brand. It is important to keep an open mind; a small change may have a great impact. You may even stumble across a spectacular innovation.