The Tyranny of Today Blocks Innovation
Last week I was talking with a client about the reasons why innovation seemed to be difficult in her business. We talked about the usual suspects – commitment, funding, focus and so on – and then she said: of course, there’s also the tyranny of today. There are some moments in a person’s life you have to look back and wonder if they were scripted. She actually said the tyranny of today, and if it were possible I would have reached through the phone and given her a hug.
The tyranny of today? What’s not to like? For innovators the tyranny of today is personified as Lex Luthor, superman’s alter ego. The tyranny of today as a phrase does more, with less, to describe the barriers to innovation than almost any description I’ve heard. And I should know, I wrote Relentless Innovation trying to define how to overcome the tyranny of today.
What’s today got to do with it?
Today has become paramount in business thinking. What can we solve today, what problems exist today, what are our revenues today? This focus on today has led to ever shortening timeframes, smaller and smaller decisions, less and less risk and far less investigation into future needs and trends. Today is paramount, and as I’ve argued before we prize fire-fighting far more than fire prevention or fire proofing. Rather than investigate emerging threats and create new products and services, we heap praise on people who fight the fires today that should have been predicted and avoided months and years ago. But the tyranny of today doesn’t allow that to happen.
One big reason for the tyranny of today? An “all hands on deck” mentality, which means that all available resources are focused on today’s issues, today’s needs, today’s problems. Ever more efficient operating models have pared organizations to the bone, meaning that anyone not working on today’s issues seem superfluous. Until the new products and services cupboard is bare because no one was working on new products and services.
We’ve created very powerful “business as usual” engines, and increasing, these engines no longer serve us, we serve them. The BAU models dictate how we think, how we deploy resources and how we reward people. The tyranny of today is based on our business as usual operating models and the perverted ways in which they drive our strategies, our thinking and the way we apply resources.
Is today important?
Sure. Today is very important, but change is inevitable and the pace of change is increasing. If there were no change then maintaining and improving the status quo would be paramount. Since the forces of change are inexorable, any firm developing more skills at standing still, locked in they tyranny of today is simply marking time till its own obsolescence. Since we KNOW that change is occurring, since we know that the pace of change is accelerating, since we know that the cost of entry for new competitors is decreasing and the number of competitors is increasing, deep down we know that while today is important, tomorrow is even more uncertain. And perhaps that increasing uncertainty causes us to flinch away, ignoring what’s behind the dark door for what’s in the evident present. But simply ignoring the future, honing the present business model and hoping that change will pass us by is not strategy, it’s the absence of strategy, and abdication of decision making.
Focus on the Future
Rather than wait passively for the future to unfold, stymied by the tyranny of today and existing business as usual models, we need to create an equally important “focus on the future”. Balancing a tyranny of today, with its requisite efficiency and short term goals with a focus on the future, to understand and embrace new products, services and business models, restores a balance between reactive, short term efficiency and proactive, long term vision. And that balance creates a more nimble, flexible company that can survive the tyranny of today and overcome the fears of the future.
Next time the tyranny of today forces your firm into decisions or actions that defer innovation and promote short term thinking, ask yourself and your team: can we balance the tyranny of today with a focus on the future?
imagecredit: dailyinspiration & gaurdiancareer
Jeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of “Make us more Innovative”, and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.