I stumbled upon this “old” article that perfectly captures my frustration at the executive 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?
Working now as an advisor to early stage tech startups, at various stages of their maturity, I am realizing that the resistance to innovation is not just a big company problem.
“…we have met the enemy of innovation and he is us…”
How many times you have been asked this question by an investor, executive, or internal marketing rep…
“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 shortly after a meeting with the same people where you or your team 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.
Alternatively, the same group that rejected the last new idea from your R&D team will show up in the lunch room and remark…
“I met these guys at a party/at lunch/on a cold call, they have some really cool technology, we should get a partnership going”
Seriously??? Why do you even have an internal development team? Are you letting them innovate? Have you asked them to innovate? Have you forcedthem 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 senses 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 on the market and takes your breath away is a result of months and years of trial and error, customer feedback and re-work. It only looks like magic because you don’t know about it until it was launched.
Someone…someone else…was spending the time and effort to innovate in a market where you and your company are cowering, hoping desperately that your customer will be happy with the current/next version, will upgrade and enable you to make your sales numbers for the next quarter.
Innovation can be 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 (the innovators) will come for you and your healthy sales margins. When I am looking at new markets in which to innovate I look for markets where there are established products, nice margins, complacent companies and customers that are complaining and are desperate for something new.
Ask yourself, how did you get where you are today? How did your 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.
Success can ultimately be self-defeating. Your company will become complacent as it gets addicted to it’s sales and profits. Sales are a good thing, and sales, obviously, are necessary for the company to move forward but sales can kill innovations.
Sales can make you afraid to innovate, afraid to rock the boat and afraid to upset your customers by potentially getting the next version wrong. Sales will make you chase new features and customer specials. Your product will become 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.
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 developed 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, which is how lemmings fall over cliffs, 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.
A better product will always come along, a different way of solving the problem, a disruptive innovation.
Things to try…
- Challenge your internal resources to innovate, and not just in product development. Challenge your sales team to find better ways to sell, your marketing team to find better ways to generate leads. Challenge you support team to get faster at responding to customers issues.
Challenge your teams…stop asking them why and ask them why not!
2, Give your teams time to experiment. Even a day a month, dedicated just to letting the them do whatever they want, to try new ideas.
3. Give them a forum to show their ideas. Celebrate the innovations, even the bad ones, show that you 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 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. Results are not always immediate but you will find that in the long term the result is a company that is successful and more importantly…is still alive.