Get Serious about Innovation

Get Serious about InnovationBusiness innovation is about creating new methods of operation, products, and services that win in the marketplace.

Innovation is a lot like life itself. Circumstances are always changing. We have to shift and correct our strategy to adjust to new developments. When we are successful the effort we put in results in improving our situation.

My definition of innovation is adaptation to new circumstances resulting in increased value that far exceeds the resources required to achieve it.

When conditions are fairly stable we have the time to be considered, take in the nuances and details, reflect before we act. But, when the environment is chaotic, unpredictable, threatening, and rapidly shifting, all that changes. The world becomes Darwinian, weeding out the unlucky and the slow. That is a pretty good description of today’s business environment.

For most leaders you can say, If you’re not innovating, you’re headed toward failure. The only question is, how fast? For those who are not yet facing a life and death situation, there are the questions of market prominence, leadership, and leaving value (money) on the table.

Successful innovation is not easy. You can create new ways of working, develop new products and services, introduce them into the market, and still fail.

When I first started doing strategy work in the mid-90s leaders were asking me to help with implementing a new idea, product, or service. They would come to me saying, “We have a better way of doing business and we need help getting buy-in, uptake, support so that every stakeholder, everyone in the organization can support this change with their behavior.”

In 2008 all of that changed. The economy tanked. People were in shock. Investment portfolios shrank dramatically. The calls I got were about dealing successfully with disruption. Nobody was sure about exactly what to do, but they knew it was going to have to be different from what they did. They didn’t need to innovate. They needed to succeed.

Leaders are still facing formidable and intimidating challenges: our tough economy, revolutionary products sweeping through the marketplace, the meteoric rise of new competitors, rapid introduction of new business models, boards and investors in shock, and customers in financial straits. I don’t see that changing in the next couple of years. My message: get serious about innovation.

But, here’s the kicker: today’s conditions are perfect for leaders who are looking for opportunity because they will be able to take advantage of the unique challenges in the marketplace and use them to create new solutions.

What is your mindset? To successfully innovate you must see what others do not. Innovation is the exception to the rule; it is the breakthrough. You must be able to look limitations directly in the eye and wring from these very circumstances the results that will catapult you forward. That is successful adaptation.

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Seth KahanSeth Kahan is a Change Leadership specialist. He has consulted with CEOs and executives in over 50 world-class organizations that include Shell, World Bank, Marriott, Prudential, Project Management Institute, and NASA. His book, Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out, is a Washington Post bestseller. Visit for a free excerpt.

Seth Kahan




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