The world is changing at an ever-increasing pace. There may have been times in history when the current rate of change was matched, for example the industrial revolution in the UK in the 19th century, when the balance of society changed from agriculture to industry in the space of a couple of generations. But it could certainly be argued that we are in a phase where so many markets are changing so fast, that the companies competing in them must seriously innovate or die.
Some industries like mobile telephones change almost quarterly. The old “floor area” approach to retail is in rapid decline, as shown by the recent demise in the UK of Blockbusters and HMV, also influenced by the rise of “showrooming” as pointed out by Tom Fishburne. Of course there are some markets that experience relatively little change, even ones we will all use, like the funeral industry. But many other examples give the impression of an increasing pace of change, so it’s no wonder corporate leaders are experiencing Innovation Vertigo, as described by Paul Hobcraft.
Even the relatively slow creep of demographic change and its impact on economies can influence business in many different ways. A single statistic I read recently underlined this well – the number of adult diapers (nappies) in Japan sold in 2012 is likely to be higher than the infant version. So with the occasional rare exception, an individual company cannot change its part of the world; it must adapt in order to survive (thank you, Darwin).
There are three key principles to consider in positioning a business to be ahead of the competition in this context of rapid change. First, companies should become more agile and able to respond to external change. Second, innovation should be developed to accelerate the pace of market change to your advantage. Third, resources should be deployed where they will make the biggest difference to the new agenda.
There is a fine line to be drawn between embarking on a program of determined, sensible and rapid change; and a panic-stricken call to McKinsey. So in the context of innovation, corporate leaders should start by asking themselves some key questions as a prompt for action:
1. When did you last overhaul your development process? Stages and Gates may be fine in principle, but too many of them means too much time preparing for, and seeking approval. This is time wasted in getting to market fast. You should revisit your processes with the key objective to shorten time to market. Even if you work in a regulated area, like pharmaceuticals, where a lot of timing is out of your hands, it’s the same for everybody in the industry. The objective is to be faster. It’s also important to bear in mind that disruptive lines of business may need different evaluation criteria.
2. Do you feel fully in control of everything that happens in your company?If you do, there’s probably a stifling bureaucracy hindering agility. The feeling of control may help you sleep more easily at night, but in the process will waste inordinate amounts of time while people conform to internal needs at the expense of external opportunities. Give your people more credit to do the right thing and to try new options. Bureaucracy and over-control are the enemies of agility.
3. Are you truly passionate about your company’s products and innovation?It’s not good if all the management time is spent analyzing numbers, whether they be financial or performance-related, at the expense of the heart of the company, which is its customer offering. Steve Jobs is a good example to look at, which may seem paradoxical after question #2 above, but you should blend these two points. Don’t over-control your people, but be passionate about what they produce and drive them to achieve more.
4. Is your innovation portfolio well balanced in the context of the 3 Horizons (or similar)?It’s always easy to let the urgent outweigh the important. In order to anticipate change you need to make preparing to exploit it an important item on the C-suite agenda, then to make it urgent. Your strategic perspective should therefore include a view beyond the here and now, to incorporate technology changes and market disruption.
5. Do your senior managers have the appetite to change?Many managers have an inbuilt preference for turf protection and a fierce defence of existing practice, founded on what has worked in the past. When the world is changing rapidly, a sense of crisis is needed, as shown by Stephen Elop at Nokia. Facing up to major change requires brave leadership, and it may also require the replacement of some change-resistant managers.
6. When did you last place a “Little Bet”?Is all your innovation geared to today and focused on what you already know? How many initiatives do you have that are “different” to today’s business, and could form the foundation for entirely new lines of revenue? How many of these “little bets” have you placed? It’s probably time to move some resource to planning a different future.
7. How much do you rely on today’s customer paradigms? Don’t frame all your innovation in the context of what your customers do today. They can only feedback on what they already know; inevitably your research report is a historical document. You need the ambidextrous approach of looking after today’s business at the same time as working on disruptive opportunities for the future. So, how can you anticipate or even induce change in customer habits and needs to your advantage.
The world is changing fast, is your business keeping pace?
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Kevin McFarthing runs the Innovation Fixer consultancy, helping companies to improve the output and efficiency of their innovation, and to implement Open Innovation. He spent 17 years with Reckitt Benckiser in innovation leadership positions, and also has experience in life sciences.