t’s common for businesses to prioritize solving the easy problems while delaying the greater efforts needed to solve the hard problems. It’s usually a low-risk (at least short-term), low-effort and low-cost approach that can return incremental advantages within a single budget cycle. The collective and cumulative effects of that habit are that we usually witness the emergence of parity stop-gap solutions across an industry. Eventually parity leads to price comparisons and margin reduction until some entity finally takes on the risk of investing enough time and treasure to take on the hard problem.
In the three blog posts prior to this one, we explored the macro trends emerging from our collective experiences with COVID-19. It appears they might affect the way we all conduct business for the foreseeable future, if not permanently.
There are two paths to innovation. One resides in our timeline just beyond now—solving a problem that exists today with technologies and resources available today. For comparison’s sake, let’s call it simple forecasting. The other path resides in our timeline years into the future—solving a problem that is, at least according to the tea leaves of trends and R&D pipelines, imminent, using technologies or resources that may not be currently available. That’s futurecasting.
Watching the world’s automakers respond (or not, as the case may be) to Tesla, has been interesting, to say the least. I find it fascinating to see an established market watch a competitor waltz in and secure a beachhead in a successful new category, with a near-zero response from the established powers for years.
Innovators are notoriously tough people to buy gifts for. They’re early adopters, so the stuff they likely want isn’t on sale yet, or worse, they couldn’t wait and already bought whatever it is for themselves. They get bored easily, so to be worth our effort and hard-earned dollars, the things you buy for them really need to offer thoughtful and engaging enough experiences to bring them back, time and time again. So, how can you find something truly sensational to give them? We thought it might make sense to talk about some of the most innovative items available, one sense at a time!
There’s a classic Venn diagram generally attributed to Ideo’s Tim Brown that points to the reality that for an idea to be considered an innovation, it needs to satisfy three criteria: desirability (people would want it), feasibility (it is something that can realistically be created) and viability (it can be made and offered in a way that makes financial sense for the business). Academics or inspired home tinkerers may be satisfied with any combination of one or two of these qualities, but a business, especially a publicly held business, needs to satisfy all three.
What most people forget about the most game-changing innovations is that, more often than not, they satisfied some unmet basic need in a simple way. The breadth and complexity of the effect of that innovation came later, as more and more people found more and more ways to utilize that innovation to address some variation of the original need. Keeping that in mind, if you’re charged with corporate innovation, there are a lot of reasons to focus on simple, small innovations. Let’s explore!
I’m not sure who first promoted the idea that the greatest determiner of whether a corporation could successfully innovate is an ill-defined, immeasurable quality named “agility.” I am sure that the individual in question had a penchant for oversimplification. Just do a search for “agile business” books on Amazon, and the results are well over the 2,000 result threshold where Amazon stops counting. It’s not that a company shouldn’t have the qualities linked to the idea of agility. It’s just that agility is an emergent condition resulting from a number of more easily quantified and measurable behaviors.
In business, we should always celebrate our successes. We should all find happiness and take comfort in classic, somewhat irrefutable, business metrics, like returning a healthy net profit, growing sales and customer loyalty, to name a few. But there are anecdotal success measures most people repeat that, while they directionally point to good things, should also have you start asking whether they actually are signs of a problem. Let’s look at three of the most common.