5 Things To Stop Doing if You Want to Innovate in the Enterprise

BY BRANT COOPER ON MARCH 31, 2016

The average lifespan of an S&P 500 company has decreased from 67 years (1950s) to about 15 years (today). The market is changing faster than ever, and an organization’s ability to move at the speed of the Internet is the only chance at surviving and thriving.

For the enterprise world, the rallying cry is similar to the classic American Revolution meme, “Join or Die.” Except in today’s age, the corporate chorus says, “Innovate, or Die!” To innovate effectively requires effort at every level of the organization, and it requires alignment among many moving parts.

Innovate Or Die

We’ve learned from the collapse of Kodak, Blockbuster, RadioShack and other once-prominent organizations that a corporate culture designed to uphold and manage existing success can actually become the archnemesis of an enterprise that needs to be agile in order to evolve to meet the needs of quickly changing global markets.

We also know from cognitive behavioral therapy that one of the best ways to change a bad habit is to replace it with a good habit. With this in mind, if you’re a corporate executive or part of a product or innovation team, here are some key habits that you should stop doing if you want to innovate in the enterprise.

1. Stop focusing on products and start focusing on problems

Problems are goldmines. Understanding customer problems requires developing customer empathy, and customer empathy requires new forms of market research methods and avoiding market research method traps. These methods are the same ones that many startups use to achieve market traction without spending millions on expensive traditional market research techniques.

Every problem discovered represents an opportunity to deliver new value. Understanding customers deeply also enables you to not only deliver new solutions, but also to improve your brand through each communication touch-point between your enterprise and the marketplace.

Of course, speaking to customers about their problems without having any defined product or solution roadmap in mind may seem awkward and even scary to many corporate employees (especially engineers and product developers). But the truth is that this form of customer interaction is critical to competing better in existing markets, as well as identifying and developing the most promising breakthrough innovations.

Focus on problems, not solutions

2. Stop thinking linearly and start thinking exponentially

Focus on the future, not the past. The world is becoming more transparent, more open, and unicorn startups are disrupting what it means to be a 21st century corporation. By leveraging the newest technologies, innovating on business models, and leveraging marketing network effects, startups can penetrate existing markets at breakneck speed. As a corporation trying to survive, you have to use it or lose it.

To be stuck in linear thinking is to be focused exclusively on incremental improvements and cost reduction. This often results in chasing has-been ideas and me-too features, producing cheaper products that eventually lose their value to customers. When working from an incremental mindset, you’re vulnerable to the moonshot thinking that comes from a more disruptive approach, and delivers new value that you will struggle to compete with. Therefore, to be successful, you must not only focus on sustaining existing businesses, but also invest time, research and experimentation on the breakthrough side of innovation.

3. Stop disincentivizing entrepreneurial behaviors and start promoting startup skills

Failure is a necessary step on the way towards success, and being afraid to fail is one of the most oft-cited reasons that corporate culture itself fails to produce breakthrough innovation. If you encourage people to be bold, but don’t provide a safe to fail environment, you’re simply creating fear.

Incentivize innovative behaviour

We can change how we think of failure by thinking of it as required learning. An organization’s ability to learn, and translate insights into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage. Let’s not let the stigma of “failure” get in the way of that.

Entrepreneurial talent wants to explore possibilities, work across silos and traditional team roles; they want to move fast, break assumptions and pursue moonshots. Yet the predominant enterprise culture prevents and even punishes these bold behaviors.

Entrepreneurial talent needs not only cover and support to get stuff done, but also the incentives to push projects over the finish line. Organizations should be ready to share in the upside of successful innovation through things like profit-sharing, bonuses and increased budgets for additional talent as they achieve market validation on new endeavors. Instead of flipping new ideas with little or no traction over to the core business, where tens of millions might be spent in execution mode, small bets across a variety of ideas with milestone-driven investment and startup-like rewards will more likely result in big wins.

Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

It’s a war for survival, and it’s a war for talent. It’s time for you to start empowering your internal entrepreneurs by giving them air support and motivation to take moonshots.

4.  Stop asking the wrong questions and start focusing on what moves the needle

The quality of your personal reality is dependent upon the quality of the questions you ask yourself. It’s no different in business – The success of your Innovation methods depends on the questions you’re asking.

Most enterprise leaders struggle with finding the right question to ask, as well as working out the right time, and the right way to ask. Unfortunately, you manage what you measure, and you measure based on the question asked. Typically this means measuring innovation initiatives using the same metrics as decade-old businesses/products: “What’s the ROI? When will we see it?” When going into uncharted territory, focusing on ROI too early can be lethal as you risk either killing a fledgeling idea with premature monetization, or under-valuing your innovation efforts. The only way to truthfully predict ROI is to look at existing markets, pulling the organization back to incremental work.

To generate successful innovation outcomes, we must lay the foundation of innovation culture within the firm, and there are several key questions that we can ask:

  • Who exactly are your potential customers?
  • What problems are they trying to solve, how, and why?
  • Is our existing solution something we should keep or throw away?
  • What channels are best to have quality communication with customers?
  • Why? What is the impact we can have on the customer and why are we the organization to do it?

If you’re a startup, it’s easy enough to ask these questions yourself and spread that ethos to your entire team because that team is probably small and tightly aligned. But in large enterprises, new leadership skills are required that empower an ethos of lean innovation, where employees are customer-focused, move with speed and agility, and seek market evidence for decision-making.

5. Stop hand-picking innovators and start spreading the entrepreneurial mindset

Large corporations invest in innovation in a number of ways, including acquisition, venture funds and internal incubators or innovation labs. This is a fine approach but, left alone, doesn’t truly prepare the company for today’s volatile markets.

Transforming the culture such that the entire organization applies entrepreneurial skills is the only way to survive long term… Entire business models are ripe for innovation, so leaving discovery and learning to only a handful will likely result in missed opportunities.

Everyone talks about “innovating” in the enterprise and disruption, but this isn’t just about building breakthrough new products. It’s about innovating the business itself and no part of the business is immune: back-office support functions can innovate in the delivery of services to employees, which still adds value to the organisation. Hands-on experience with innovation skills also allows them to support the endeavors of product and innovation teams directly. Marketing, customer service, sales, and other departments can discover new value to be created for customers. While not everyone will “innovate” in the sense of creating product directly, innovation can come from anywhere.

Where does that leave us?

Transforming a massive organization to be more innovative is no easy feat, but if you stop doing these things, the results will be astonishing.

One of our clients, DBS Bank, a 20,000 person organization, now has a fleet of Innovation Champions who are driving this cultural transformation from within. They’re helping other employees replace their old habits with these new ones by providing support and guidance at every step of the way. Another one of our clients, Edmunds.com, discovered a completely new product after applying these principles in a bootcamp.

Which of these bad habits do you currently see in your organization? How can you spark the change needed to stop them and start innovating?

Discovering disruptive products and innovating upon existing products/processes may be an outcome, but it’s an effect of making these changes. We’ve seen it happen first hand and are excited to see what you come up with!

Brant Cooper

About BRANT COOPER

NYT Bestselling Author of The Lean Entrepreneur and Co-Founder of Moves the Needle, which brings entrepreneurial spirit to the enterprise.

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