Incremental Innovations Help Businesses Remain Relevant

innovationsIn today’s crazy, chaotic, fast-paced world there is one truism you can count on: No business is too big to fail or too small to succeed. Change is happening faster than many of us can adapt to. Just when you think you’re on top of new trends and technologies, they become old news.

I was invited back to give the commencement address at my hometown high school nearly 30 years ago. During my remarks I told the graduates that in order to succeed you need to be able to see the future. At the time, I had no idea how accurate that would be.

No one has a crystal ball, so in order to stay in front of the curve you need to be willing to try new things, fail and learn in incremental ways from the information you’ve gathered. Marching in place means you’re actually moving to the rear and your business is at risk of becoming irrelevant.

Business leaders today need open-minded thinking, not a closed mindset, because at this very moment, whether your business is just getting started, struggling to grow, established and successful or a large corporate brand, it is on the verge of failure. Every business in this fast-paced, competitive market is at risk. Some will survive, others will disappear from the landscape.

“To remain relevant today, you don’t need to launch the next, cool, sexy product.”

Why? There are myriad reasons, but in general terms, it’s because of an inability to shift as market demands change. Think about the brand names you knew growing up as a child. Personally, I remember the Montgomery Ward catalog store on the courthouse square in my small, rural hometown. What a delight it was to pick up a package of goodies ordered from its big, glossy catalog or to visit one of its retail stores in a larger downtown location. I’m sure many of you reading this don’t even remember the Montgomery Ward brand. The company’s rivals, such as Sears and J.C. Penney, shifted their focus to suburban retail malls as demographics changed, but by the time Montgomery Ward decided to follow suit, it was too late.

When one company successfully transitions during times of change and others don’t, it doesn’t mean that one leadership team is smarter or more well-informed than the others. However, it does reflect on how the organization’s leadership reviews, analyzes, frames, and executes under the circumstances. According to authors Matthew S. Olson and Derek van Bever’s book “Stall Points” once a company runs up against a major stall in its growth, it has less than a 10 percent chance of ever fully recovering.

When the leadership finally wakes up to find lost market-share and tanking sales, it scrambles to react. The battle cry is: Change or die. Many times managers do what I’d refer to as throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping something sticks. But generally, it’s too late to save the ship from sinking resulting in bankruptcy, acquisition or ultimate default and liquidation.

The main culprit is an inability to let go of “tried-and-true” methods in order to grow the business in a new, more dynamic way. I’ve found, even in companies where the leadership touts innovation, it’s often only rhetoric. When the landscape begins to change, they wait too long to adapt. Successful companies today have innovation built into their DNA.

To remain relevant today, you don’t need to launch the next, cool, sexy product. In fact, that can be a sure path to the business graveyard. Think of it this way: At 211 degrees water is hot, but one degree higher and its boiling. It’s time to turn the heat up on your business.