Continuous innovation is one of the keys to business success. Without it, you run the risk of slowing your company to a halt, though there are ways to recognize and avoid innovation standstill.
When Amazon first started, many analysts didn’t predict a bright future for the company. How could anyone have a booming business selling books, right?
Of course, Jeff Bezos went on to prove all of them wrong. Through continuous innovation and reinvention, Amazon became the online retail giant that it is today. The company’s scope extended far beyond that of a start-up online bookstore in a suburb of Seattle.
With the introduction of the Kindle, Amazon’s e-reader, Bezos tipped his hand about the company’s future direction. Later on, Amazon’s cloud computing division grew to be the undisputed industry leader.
Amazon was famous for not recording a profit despite its meteoric revenue growth. It was all reinvested in R&D and innovations. How did Bezos keep that stream of ideas and innovations going?
According to him, Amazon would take the skills of its people and transform them into a new service or product. Is that all there is to it?
What are some of the signs that your company isn’t innovating enough? Let’s find out.
Sign #1 – Team Members Are Pitching Competitors’ Ideas
Some companies prefer to survey the competitors and put their spin on existing ideas.
This strategy is wrong on several levels. First, it restrains your teams and dissuades creativity. There’s never the time or budget to properly design, engineer, and test a unique product.
While senior management is pushing teams to use competitors’ ideas, there might be a much bigger problem. Team members may attempt to pass off copied ideas as their own.
On the one hand, this would show that you might have employed the wrong people. On the other, your company culture might be ripe for a revamp.
All your new employees must understand that you want and demand new ideas. If not, you risk missing what your target customer wants.
Take Fulfilment by Amazon for example. The first of its kind, the service was ground-breaking and Amazon thrilled its marketplace sellers by anticipating what they wanted.
Sign #2 - You’re Trying to Cover All Grounds
Some people are under the false pretence that innovation comes from the business leader alone. Sure, a leader has to be innovative and pave the way. Beyond that, if innovation only comes from senior management, then the company culture is not up to snuff.
This is evident in a leader as innovative as Elon Musk.
Musk may have come up with many of the original ideas, but he sure didn’t engineer or define everything himself.
For example, SpaceX was started on Musk’s premise of making space travel available and affordable. Musk was quick to find those who had the know-how and creativity to put the idea into action.
With renowned rocket engineer Tom Muller on the team, it took SpaceX 15 months to launch its first rocket. Now the CTO of SpaceX, Muller spearheaded SpaceX’s non-stop innovation alongside Musk and other team members.
Sign #3 - There’s Pressure to Move Quickly
If your main focus is speed, quality will inevitably suffer. Worse, speeding along may not leave any room for innovation.
Teams that have to keep sprinting are usually stretched to their limits. Scant project budgets push the people to put in a lot of overtime even when additional team members are called for.
After a while, churning out products as if on a conveyor belt becomes frustrating to everybody. Team members are often confused about what’s required of them, which is likely to manifest in disappointed customers.
Keep focusing on speed and it wouldn’t be long before everything begins to fall apart. Unable to cope with the pressure, the most indispensable team members may be the first to depart. Customers won’t be too far behind.
It’s not enough to offer free food and a game room and expect your teams to be creative. Innovation requires a company culture that promotes forward-thinking from top to bottom, and it’s usually not something you can rush.
Sign #4 - You Don’t Have a North Star
The North Star is a guiding strategy or idea that defines a company’s products, purpose, and ideal customers. Like the physical star, it leads a company in the right direction towards achieving its long-term goals.
When it comes to innovation, the North Star is a potent tool that can reveal if an idea could work in a particular business context. Ideally, there should be a bulletproof business framework behind the North Star, with which teams can make impartial decisions about the validity of an idea.
Even so, developing subpar products is not out of the realm of possibility for any company, which shows that it’s not only about the framework. Those who implement the framework play a vital role as well.
The North Star strategy and framework enable your people to judge an idea with objectivity. And at the first sign that a project is going the wrong way, team members should be free to ask: “What exactly is the innovation here?”
If you don’t yet have your North Star, it’s not too late to find it. Take your time to gauge your company’s goals and purpose and you’ll be able to come away with a clear vision of where you want to take your company.
Signal #5 - You’re Too Stuck in Your Own Ways
Getting fixated on your idea of innovation is contrary to its spirit. It takes a team effort to innovate where everybody has the liberty to voice their opinions and ideas, preferably based on company goals, strategies, and capabilities.
The problem is that some business leaders and founders find it hard to let go, which can be especially problematic in the rapid growth stage.
The leader’s innovative spirit may have taken the company off the ground. But there will come a point when it’s vital to put your trust in team members’ judgement.
To draw from Musk’s example again, he surrounded himself with people whose creativity and knowledge is conducive to innovation. And he backed that up a great ecosystem where they can fly solo as needed.
Musk’s teams have the culture and capacity to assess and carry out innovative ideas on their own, without which perhaps none of his companies would be where they are today.
Stay on Top of Innovation
Sustainable innovation has three vital ingredients.
One, the founder or chief executive’s innovative spirit and ideas define the North Star, which happens to be the second part. The team’s ability to assess and implement ideas is the third.
This would include a willingness to question ideas and discard them if necessary. After all, that’s how Tesla, Amazon, and SpaceX became what they are today.
If you like what you hear and you’re interested in booking me to speak more about innovation at your event, contact my office to make the arrangement.