Thanks to @janasedivy for pointing me to this article that perfectly captures my frustration at the response to in-house innovation that I have encountered over and over again in my career in high-tech.
INNOVATE ON PURPOSE Why do we want innovations yet fear innovation?
There was one quote that stuck with me “…we have met the enemy of innovation and he is us…”
Ask yourself how many times you have been asked this question…
“XZY Company just released a new product that is kicking our ass, we need sometime new, what can you build for us?” which always seems to follow the meeting where you demonstrated something new, or suggested, for the 100th time, that the product should be upgraded, overhauled, or thrown out, only to be met with the response “Why would we spend time/effort/money on that, the product is selling just fine“.
Or the old standard…”I met these guys at a party/at lunch/from a cold call, they have some really cool technology, we should get a partnership going“…seriously??? Why do you have an internal development team? Are you letting them innovate? Have you asked them to innovate? Have you forced them to innovate? While bringing in external partners can be good, if it is complementary and not overlapping, it is the best way to stifle innovation inside your company as your internal team sees that their contributions are not valued and they are not being given a chance to produce exciting new tech.
Product creation is not magic, innovation is not free. Every product that appears and takes your breath away is a result of months and months and years of trial and error and customer feedback and re-work. It only looks like magic because you don’t hear about it until it was done and launched. Someone…someone else…was spending the time and effort to innovate in a market where you and your company are just sitting, hoping desperately that the customer will be happy with the current/next version and allow you to make your numbers for the next quarter.
Innovation is very disruptive, disruptive to the products already in the market. And don’t fool yourself, there will be disruptive innovation in your market if it is successful in any way. They will come for you and your healthy sales margins. I know because when I am looking at new products I look for markets where there are established products and complacent companies and room to innovate.
Ask yourself, how did you get where you are today? How did the current product get build and launched? If you are in a small or medium size company, in all likelihood it was developed by a group that is no longer with the company. A group that innovated because they had to, because they had no product to sell, because they were selling into an existing market, against a larger competitor and had to innovate in order to make any sales at all.
The problem is that success can be ultimately self-defeating. Your company can become complacent and addicted to it’s sales. Now don’t get me wrong, sales are a good thing, and sales, obviously, are necessary but they can kill innovations. They can make you afraid to innovate, afraid to rock the boat and potentially upset your customers by getting the next version wrong. Sales will make you chase features and turn your product into a ball of duct tape, instead of creating the next great thing.
Don’t fool yourself though, those same customers that you are so carefully protecting from your internal innovation are looking at each new product that comes across their desk and will jump on the one that thrills them, dropping you like a hot potato.
Ok, enough whining…what is the solution?
I took a course in startups a long time ago and the one comment that stuck with me was “If you have a successful product, sell it and start again“. Which is a radical way of looking at it but it goes to the point. If you are good at innovating new products, do it again, and again.
Now maybe this stuck with me because I agreed with it, but the core of the comment leads back to where we started. Don’t become complacent, don’t become addicted to your sales, don’t believe your own sales bullshit, don’t believe you are the best. There will always be a better product, a disruptive innovation, why no let it be one of your own.
Things to try…
1. Challenge your internal resources to innovate, and not just in development. Find better ways to sell, better ways to market your products, better ways to support your customers and make them happy. Challenge your teams…stop asking them why and ask them why not!
2, Give them time to experiment. Even a day a month, dedicated just to letting the internal resources do whatever they want, to try new ideas.
3. Give them a forum to show their ideas. Celebrate the innovations, even the bad ones, it shows that people are engaged and interested and it will lead to other ideas and other innovations.
4. Take a chance on the ideas. If there are good ideas that come out of the demonstrations act on them, integrate them into your product, start new product lines, go after new markets.
Innovating from within is a scary concept and claims resources, time and money, that do not always provide immediate return, but you will find that long term the result is a company that is successful and more importantly…is still alive.