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How To Accelerate Innovation In The Age of Disruption

Change maker CEOs see this time of year as a chance to get momentum going for product and service innovation, new delivery models, and more.

innovationWith another calendar year starting, most CEOs begin a new fiscal cycle, in pursuit of a new set of targets even tougher than 2018’s. The big known continues to be that so many unknowns exist.

The certainties are that disruptive trends will continue:

• Unprecedented digital advancement as cloud, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, block chain and other new technologies arise and expand their impact.

• A continuous redefinition of work, driven by increasing automation, integration of people and machine, and a constant push to avoid talent obsolescence.

• The preeminence of digital natives – millennial and Gen Z employees and customers – whose aspirations and expectations are overriding formerly reliable assumptions.

Predictions are that 90 percent of the top 1000 companies will either be acquired or will disappear by 2030, unable to anticipate and adapt to the market, or recognize the right opportunities through relentless change, complexity, unpredictability and ambiguity.

The trends are no secret. The change imperative is obvious, except for those wearing blinders or heading towards the exits. Leading towards the future is the CEO’s job, especially when the business faces what can feel like overwhelming variables.

Look at the start of the year with as a time of openness to new ideas, making New Year’s resolutions, and achieving a fresh start.

Reportedly, only 8 percent of people achieve the resolutions they make. Change makers can beat these odds because they not only dream big—they also focus on execution. They see the opportunity this time of year presents to get momentum going for product and service innovation, new delivery models, and expanding into new markets or segments.

Change makers:

• Focus on delivering solutions to real-world problems, and strive towards purpose that includes and goes beyond bottom line results.

• Are intent on creating user, employee, investor, supplier, and partner value, and avoiding harmful consequences to the broader community.

• Listen, collaborate, and feel energized by market trends.

• Communicate their vision to their people. They reinforce through message and action the brand purpose, as well as cultural expectations.

• Change makers are not disabled by fear of the unknown.

Any CEO has the opportunity to increase their organization’s change making potential. Be open to adopting tactics and tools validated by others who have met the challenges of achieving sales and revenue growth, and satisfied investor demands.

Here are a few recommendations that stand out, culled from research behind “The Change Makers Playbook: How to Seek, Seed and Scale Innovation In Any Company.”

Listen and explore what is going on in your users lives. The best insights may not come from asking people whether they like your new product or service concepts—they are more likely to come from observing people’s behavior in their daily activities, especially their struggles and challenges. Even small frustrations can be the seeds of big business opportunities.

State your purpose, loud and clear. Purpose is not a warm and fuzzy concept. It is a practical must-have to know where you are heading, to align your team around common goals, and to make daily decisions about where to put resources and how to execute.

Forget linearity, iterate. “Agile” may be the proper name of a software development methodology, but it’s not only the domain of your tech team. Iterating, collaborating, and interacting with users to get feedback on rough prototypes that progress with their input to implementable designs will be faster—and far less risky—than old-fashioned stage-gate development processes.

Rethink metrics and KPIs. Metrics built over years or even decades of past performance, to manage a scale business, can stifle innovations that are based on new business model assumptions. Use early prototyping phases to understand how users want to engage with you, and how their behaviors connect to business model drivers, so you can develop relevant metrics to guide operating and financial assumptions

Demonstrate and reward resourcefulness. There are rarely, if ever, sufficient resources to do the basics, let alone invest in experimentation and the iterative journey of discovery. Resourceful leaders dive in with a figure-out-whatever-it-will-take attitude and behaviors, knowing that money, time and talent will always be tight.

Challenge biases about talent. Sadly, I have heard executives opine that only digital natives can contribute effectively to today’s digital challenges, and that legacy employees cannot contribute to making innovation happen. Don’t lose out on the value of experienced employees’ brand and sector knowledge. Tap into the lessons learned, while not being limited by past orthodoxies.

 Be the chief culture officer. Foster a collaborative, intellectually curious and execution-oriented culture. This means one where there is a sense of dependability, employees find meaning and feel they can have an impact, and where it is psychologically safe to take the risks inherent in doing things differently.

As you set the pace for 2019, resolve to drive your business’ innovation agenda as a change maker and role model for others in your organization. While innovation success is not reducible to a formula, following basic principles will increase the likelihood that you will be among those whose New Year’s resolutions become real as the year unfolds.

Read more: Your Poor Company Culture Is Costing You


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