Fetishising innovation allows it to be a peripheral and aspirational activity. Change, improvement and disruption need to become part of the everyday work of senior executives. How much longer can you afford to hide behind the low-hanging fruit?
Are you fed up with the word innovation? Personally, I’m sick of it, not least because I feel that my job demands I keep using it. There have been occasions over the last year when I’ve felt that my chosen vocation is to say the ‘i’ word as many times a day as possible while keeping a straight face. I was saying as much to my colleague Phil this morning. “Innovation is the guy who invented the lightbulb” he agreed “not moving something to the left”.
The more sophisticated retailers now have operational teams who are focused day in, day out on iterative optimisation. This is the bread and butter of digital retail. It is easy to justify (in fact it should now be beyond requiring justification) because it produces measurable uplift and increase in conversion. What it doesn’t do is build the future of the business. The difference nowadays is that ‘the future of the business’ used to be something you could think of as years or even decades away. The event horizon is much closer now and the need for major change or improvement can often be measured in months.
To give you an example close to home, Joylab has been working for the last 12 months on developing a SaaS product which is now in Alpha. This has been expensive in terms of time, money and focus: the three resources you never have enough of in business. We don’t regard this as innovation but as a necessary investment in evolving our business model. It hasn’t produced any revenues yet – and it may never turn a profit – but if we want to create a scalable alternative to the standard agency execution model then we can’t afford not to do it. It’s part of our journey to creating a viable future for our business.
If you’re a senior person, ‘innovation’ is part of your job, whether it’s in your title or not. The more senior you are, the more incumbent it’s going to become upon you to produce discontinuous change or improvement.
For a while digital execs will be able to hide behind incremental improvement as there is still plenty of low hanging fruit but as the size and depth of their teams increase the onus is going to come on them to create step change.
What do you think? Can innovation be part of the everyday work of business? What factors are helping or hindering you in the drive to change things?