It seems so funny, looking back on a meeting I attended about 20 years ago. At that meeting a good friend was presenting a new book, entitled Who Moved My Cheese? He was recommending this book to all of us in the leadership team of a mid-sized ERP consulting firm. Of course most of us read it and thought – hmm – that’s interesting. We need to get better at accepting change, instead of seeking to sustain the status quo.
You don’t need to worry any more about someone moving your cheese. If you are still moving in the slow, certain ways of most businesses, your cheese was consumed by another firm a long time ago, and shortly you’ll notice that the cheese supply seems very limited. In fact you’ll probably discover that the entire cheese supply has been cornered and many of your competitors have shifted their diets to cheese flavored tofu or something else. It’s no longer a matter of IF your cheese will get moved, it’s not even a question of WHEN your cheese will move. The real question is: can you move as quickly as your cheese is moving – or better yet anticipate where it is going to get there first?
Your survival depends on your ability to change
In the archeological record we can see how animals evolved, changing as threats or conditions changed. We can even see this in the human record. These changes took millennia to unfold, and slowly but surely plants, animals and people evolved as well.
Today, the pace of change is accelerating and it is faster than ever. Perhaps not in how we humans evolve – but definitely in terms of how businesses and technologies evolve. In the not so distant past, businesses prided themselves and their products on being “build to last”. Today, we need to think more about “built to change”, more agile, more nimble and more creative than in the past.
Innosight has completed and published some nice research which illustrates the accelerating pace of change, looking at the life span of major corporations on the S&P 500 list. The average lifespan of a company on the S&P 500 is down to less than 12 years.
I think – I hope – that you’ll agree that in order to remain relevant, individuals and companies must adapt to new situations and new conditions. We must change in order to stay relevant.
What is innovation but directed change?
Innovation – finding new ideas, spotting new opportunities – is simply proactive change. It is something that you engage in proactively, rather than waiting for others to discover new needs or markets and then attempting to copy. I think that many of the concerns or fears about innovation closely mirror concerns about change, because both seem unfamiliar, require individuals to leave behind trusted frameworks and approaches, and both require exploration of something new, that may or may not have value.
The fact that most companies aren’t good at change, and equally aren’t that great at innovation, shouldn’t come as a surprise. Innovation is change, and most organizations don’t do change well. Instead of innovation, most prefer to improve effectiveness and efficiency of what they are already doing, doubling down rather than creating something new. Until organizations are willing to recognize the need for faster, more rapid and more continuous change, they won’t have the chops to do really good innovation. Most of the real barriers to innovation are change-based and culture-based, meaning that until you can change quickly and successfully, you’ll have a difficult time innovating. And if you can’t innovate, you will perish.
What to do?
Most of us live and work in organizations that were ‘built to last” when what we need are agile, nimble, change-oriented, proactive cultures. If you want or need to innovate, focus on the factors of your culture that stymie change, that create FUD about new work or experiences, that reward reinforcing past behavior over taking risks and discovering something new.
Innovation success is based on corporate cultures that welcome and encourage change, insight, discovery, experimentation and speed. If your cultures aren’t aligned to these characteristics, you’ll need to focus on culture change in order to innovate continuously and successfully.
Image credit: Pixabay
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Jeffrey Phillips has over 15 years of experience leading innovation in Fortune 500 companies, federal government agencies and non-profits. He is experienced in innovation strategy, defining and implementing front end processes, tools and teams and leading innovation projects. He is the author of Relentless Innovation and OutManeuver. Jeffrey writes the popular Innovate on Purpose blog. Follow him @ovoinnovation