Looking for Innovation? Focus on Your Existing Business First

The "corporate unicorn" of creative disruption has an allure, and there are certainly times when radical change is required. But while dramatic stories of disruption make great headlines, for far more organizations, innovation focused on achieving significant improvement in existing lines of business is a surer—and more profitable—bet for driving actual results.

The 4 Conditions in Practice
To benefit from the four conditions, teams should work with methodology for pursuing innovation challenges. In the case of Nomacorc, the teams used Schaffer’s Rapid Results approach, which focuses teams on achieving significant goals in accelerated time frames. For instance, one team, challenged by leadership with making measurable progress in penetrating major wine bottler accounts, set a goal of getting actual purchase commitments from three of the largest U.S. accounts ( which Nomacorc had been trying to penetrate for years without success).

This was a particularly difficult challenge since large buyers have a 6-18 month sales cycle to test new closures. By testing different approaches rapidly and efficiently, the team challenged accepted wisdom about how major accounts buy, shortening the sales cycle and enabling them to generate revenue from an important sector of the market that had previously been closed to them.

A second team was charged with taking a recently launched product and driving growth significantly beyond targeted projections in one country. The team set an aggressive goal for generating new customer purchases within 100 days. Achieving this goal required rethinking virtually every aspect of their existing marketing and sales tactics, from how they trained distributors to generating publicity. And they had to experiment with new ideas and learn quickly what worked.

As a result, the team not only exceeded its goal, but also created momentum that enabled them to generate more than 200% of their annual target for the entire year. Equally important, they developed a fundamentally different set of approaches to introducing new products that has become a model across the company.

In both cases, leaders ensured that these four conditions were in place, enabling teams to learn, innovate and drive measurable results effectively. Tight time frames and the need to move quickly fostered the energy and creative friction necessary for cross-functional teams to develop and execute different approaches, and to blow the whistle quickly and unsentimentally when the course had to be changed.

And in both cases, the teams achieved results that far surpassed what they or their leaders believed was possible. The benefits went well beyond the significant increase in sales and major account penetration, as the learning from these efforts has migrated across the company. The product launch team has now become an important asset for piloting other new Nomacorc products launches.

Key takeaways:

  • Don’t overlook opportunities to innovate in your core business
  • Innovations don’t have to be radical to have a big impact on performance
  • Focus on cross-functional teams
  • Empower team members to make decisions, then test hypotheses
  • Freeze the goals and the time frame, not the plans
  • Encourage experimentation
  • Ensure teams have a method or framework that creates focus and helps the teams to navigate the ambiguous task of innovation

Every organization has the potential to perform at a higher level, to innovate and to stimulate the entrepreneurial energy that can drive long-term and sustainable growth. By focusing on areas of real opportunity and creating the conditions in which teams are empowered to work across borders to develop and put new ideas to work, companies can unlock that entrepreneurial power and achieve measurable results.

Logan Chandler
Logan Chandler
Markus Spiegel
Markus Spiegel

Logan Chandler, is a partner at Schaffer Consulting and author of Off-Sites That Work (Harvard Business Review). Markus Spiegel, a partner at Schaffer Consulting, has published insights from his consulting work and research in many formats including Forbes Media, Leader to Leader, Research in Organizational Change and Development and has spoken at several international conferences.


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