Innovation: Don’t flirt if you don’t mean business
“This has been the most energized, inspired day in my long career here,” proclaimed a Senior Director of R&D of a durable goods company, “but it will be a complete waste of time if the company doesn’t launch any of these products or services.”
His comments resounded with prophetic pomp, a sad vocal thunder. Everyone knew the truth about which he dared to speak. They’d been in other such hack-a-thons, workshops, and boot camps. They’d seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of exciting, novel, and own-able product concepts created to solve specific customer needs never leave the whiteboard, let alone the product roadmap or launch in the market—a recipe for employee frustration.
They’d also witness consulting firm after consulting firm parade into their organization hopeful to create and launch new platforms in new segments, only to wither on the vine of executive indecision while the company’s market share either grew in pitifully small increments, or, most likely, also withered along with the equity of a once-leading brand.
Even if there were a strategy to grow its position in the category, those tactics, too, never leave the paralysis-inducing death grip of the anxious executive team.
All of the unsubtle smoke signals were present for the need of genuine innovation and a exponential growth plan:
- Private Label outsells the branded category leader
- Acquired brands lose their once-valuable equity in less than three years, then get relegated to life support
- Product line no longer sets the standard for the tenets of its former market position (such as quality, aesthetics, or convenience, for example) and has too many similar SKUs for buyers and consumers to care
- Large bets are placed on incorporating new technologies without a clear understanding of its ROI, brand value, and sales strategy
- A destructive type of politics becomes the cultural ethos where professionals are manically loved or hated, often on the same day
- Major market insights are ignored or dismissed
Try launching anything save a me-too product in this environment and you will be punished at every turn.
Yet, a desire for innovation exists in such environments, paradoxically. Perhaps they want the option value or to feel relevant?
They go through innovation iteration after iteration, speeding up only the level of frustration with the false hope of actually doing something different this time.
Their most-driven and brightest people see through the artificial fog of such bad “innovation theater” and leave for a culture that will support their instincts and talents at creating new value. Others stick around for various reasons, turning cynical, resentful, doing whatever it takes to survive in such an environment. Several old-timers harken back to the good-ole-days when the company created real value by leading.
Why bother with the charade? Don’t demoralize your team.
If you are not serious about innovation, don’t do it. If you just flirt with it, you will alienate your professionals. Respect this formal discipline if you are committed to growth. Playing at it only hastens your demise.
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Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.