Innovation Debt

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“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” – William Pollard

Do you ever get the sense that things are getting a little stale? That, while you’re personally doing great work, it’s just not as compelling, as rewarding, as forward-thinking as you wished? It’s not that you’re not delivering quality, it’s not that you’re not being effective in the solutions you’re building, it’s just that you’ve been doing it that way for a long while and there’s this nagging idea that you’re missing out. It’s not that you just want to jump on the latest fad so you’ll feel “cool.” It’s just that you’re getting the sense that your organization is missing the boat, that there’s something coming in the future that really needs the groundwork laid now. You and your organization may be suffering from Innovation Debt.

In the software development world, there is an important concept called “technical debt.” As I mentioned earlier in this post, there’s a similar concept at a company level I’ve termed “innovation debt.” It’s far more than just a technical issue and it’s certainly not just about software development. It’s about your organization as a whole and where they stand on the innovation continuum. If you’re not innovating, you will be incurring innovation debt. Essentially, Innovation Debt is the cost you’ll be accumulating if you’re not investing in creating and building compelling and distinct solutions and competencies that don’t just tap into existing best practices but that are constantly looking ahead for what’s next, for the emerging technologies, techniques and practices that will have your company on the front edge of growth and innovation.

Companies are sometimes fearful of “innovation” because the tangible benefits can be hard to quantify. Too often they ask the question, “What’s the cost of investing in new and distinctive (innovation) practices and competencies?” But they should be asking, “What’s the cost of not investing in new and distinctive (innovation) practices and competencies?” If you’re not innovating, the cost is the innovation debt you’ll be accumulating. And like any debt, you’ll have to start making interest payments. Rather than paying that interest and then paying that debt, you can make an investment in innovation and start reaping the rewards in the following fifteen ways.

  1. People; innovation is all about your people; it says to all your employees, “we’re engaged and ahead of the curve, this is a company you want to invest your time and talents in, we provide the tools and the technology that make you effective in your job and turns us into a market leader.”
  2. Mindset; transforming the culture of the company to an innovation mindset builds automatic behaviors into every initiative, every strategy, every program, making it an assumption that all activities of the company prepare for future markets, impact the existing market and improve the position of the company relative to its competitors
  3. Compete; competitive companies are serial innovators that get ahead and stay ahead of the competition; to compete in the global marketplace, it’s vital to use tools and practices that are fueled by innovation; your competitors are aggressively targeting your piece of the pie and they undoubtedly will be creative and innovative to gain an advantage
  4. Keeping Pace; if markets were static, if competitors didn’t come up with new products and services, if customers were predictable, and if technology never changed, there would be no need for innovation; the business landscape is constantly changing, and with it, the methods, processes, tools and common business practices; innovative tools ensure emerging business processes can be effectively practiced
  5. Productivity; effective organizations are primarily based on the productivity of the people which is primarily based on the tools they have; great people with great tools = great productivity
  6. Execution; results matter, innovative use of technology delivers results faster and with more effectiveness, innovative organizations foster a culture of execution, of delivering, of discipline
  7. Enthusiasm; innovation drives enthusiasm, enthusiasm drives participation and engagement, engagement drives customer service and profit
  8. ROI; innovative technology pays for itself through increased efficiency, improved accuracy and radically effective process improvement
  9. Process; innovative approaches to the use of technology provide process improvement where people and systems are seamlessly integrated to deliver results far more effectively
  10. Growth; innovation fuels growth, the business becomes more productive, responsive, even fun; new and effective methods and tools provide an edge in entering new markets; people want to be part of growth, not cost-cutting
  11. Proactive; the choices are, “make change” or “be changed”; you can either affect change and shape the future of your company and your industry which is hugely positive OR be changed by and respond to trends and events which is hugely negative
  12. Vision; innovative tools, when properly applied, enable you to see markets and opportunities through a different lens, allowing you to position yourself effectively before your competition and lead with vision.
  13. Creativity; building a culture of innovation fosters creativity which leads to solving problems in new and exponentially more effective ways that goes far beyond building new tools but also leads to innovating your functions, logistics, business models and processes
  14. Position; Market leaders are always market innovators; Apple, Google, Coca Cola, Cisco, Amazon, Starbucks, Disney, BMW, UPS, Intel, GE, Nike, PG&E, Samsung, eBay. Add your company to that list!
  15. Skills; innovative companies and leaders develop unique skills

Look at the companies that are devoted to innovation. It’s a pretty impressive list; Apple, Google, Coca Cola, Cisco, Amazon, Starbucks, Disney, BMW, UPS, Intel, GE, Nike, PG&E, Samsung, eBay. Read the histories of these companies. You can’t help but be overwhelmed by the breadth of their research, their innovation, the wide range of their explorations, the kinds of things that naturally recur from these efforts; conversations, ideas, excitement, growth, passion, success. It’s overwhelming. They deliberately nurture their corporate intellect through true education and innovation; a constant commitment to experimentation, and not just light and peripheral experiments but substantive experiments, purposefully setting their course on a culture of innovation. Compromising on Innovation may compromise everything your organization hopes to build for your owners, your employees and your customers.

Are you investing in innovation or incurring innovation debt?
BETA - Global Innovation Management Institute certification


Jeff RubinghJeff Rubingh is a technology innovation expert, consultant and analyst. Focused on the intersection between technology and business, Jeff helps clients identify ground-breaking solutions that maximize ROI across existing and emerging technology disciplines.

This entry was posted in Creativity, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Innovation Perspectives, Leadership, Strategy, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Innovation Debt

  1. Pingback: Daily Digest: 14 April 2014 - Beyond Jugaad

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