Innovation – Forget the hype. What exactly does this look like for your business?
It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), innovation appears to be the dominant ideology at the moment – and especially for those businesses wrangling with digital technologies in their attempts to remain competitive.
Whether Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘Ideas Boom’, U.S. White House or China’s President Xi – we are all being led to believe that innovation and disruption will help transform business by creating new opportunities for business and individuals alike, raise living standards as well as enrich the economy. At a more local level and on the conference circuit, IT industry and business conferences appear to have ‘innovation’ as a permanent topic.
Question is: Is the current innovation mantra what it appears to be? Unfortunately, emerging evidence is questioning the assumption that it will universally deliver the goodies. This has implications for businesses embarking on innovation initiatives.
The acronym FoMO describes the Fear of Missing Out – that very real phenomenon that describes how we just don’t like being left out. FoMO applies equally to individuals and businesses.
More pointedly, FoMO is a useful tool for sales and marketing to drive consumer and customer behaviours. FoMO is evident across a diverse range of industries and applications whether consumer technology (kilometre long queues for the latest SmartPhone), tech startups (in pitching to investors), or good old fashioned driving up sales for existing products and services.
Fact is, FoMO is alive and well in the current innovation discourse.
While established businesses may use innovation in challenging their own status quo – the fact remains: it is challenging and can be risky.
The overemphasis of the perceived benefits1 over risks or downsides of disruption and innovation can have serious consequences for society, economies, industries and individual organisations alike. This effect is especially relevant when FoMO fuels perceptions that the short term benefits appear to outweigh any future risks.
Case in point being the near collapse of the financial world in the late 2000s (colloquially termed the GFC). The GFC had its origins in innovation, namely the unbridled development of complex, opaque financial transactions. The rest, as they say, is history.
Aside from the rare stand-out global disruptors (We all know who they are as they are continually mentioned ad-nauseum), there is also increasing shareholder scepticism over the value of digital innovations. Additionally, there are a number of respected independent observers who offer excellent insights and perspectives into the prevailing innovation paradigm2, especially in relation to digital technologies.
Innovative start-ups: Are you a player or being played?
While established organisations come to grips with building this capability within their own organisations, what about the fast moving world of digital start-ups?
For those seeking start-up El Dorado – whether in Silicon Valley, or elsewhere – must have a clear understanding of the drivers behind venture capital and the promise of the IPO in the longer term.
Three cheers for the maintainers
In the real (mostly, physical) world, how does the innovation mantra play out in the delivery of important products and services on which our businesses and lives depend?
There is nothing sexy or appealing about routine products and services. The only time they hit the news is when there is a disaster or problem. Bottom line is that innovation, disruption or start-ups (Yep – this article also is discussing it) trumps boring – so recognising this influence is key to balancing the perception of innovation’s usefulness or sustainable value.
Fact remains that any successful innovator (company or individual) will tell you that organisations still need their internal ‘maintainers’.
These are the people that are involved in the less glamorous work of keep organisations and systems running efficiently, and more importantly, customers happy. If this ‘maintaining’ work is devalued, innovative ideas and organisations will not achieve their full potential.
.. however, you cannot (and should not) stop innovation
Provided business leaders, and individuals alike consider the overall context, intrinsic value and pitfalls of innovation, it will continue to improve prospects for individuals and organisations alike.
Just need to pay attention to the risks to others.
Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell – professors of technology and innovation at the Stevens Institute of Technology (NJ, U.S.) cite crack cocaine as en excellent example of innovation. It also “involved a great deal of entrepreneurship (called ‘dealing’) and generated lots of revenue.”
Key message here is to keep a constant eye on the broader context and impacts of your innovation initiatives.
1 Sjoerd Bakker & Björn Budde (2012) “Technological hype and disappointment: lessons from the hydrogen and fuel cell case”, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 24:6, 549-563
2 Stephen Fox, (2012),”Getting real about innovations”, International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 5 Iss 1 pp. 86 – 104