What does it take to be a change agent in a world that doesn’t stop changing?
My last blog on change and innovation referenced Billy Joel, and you may recall his song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” essentially a history lesson of the 1940s through 1980s in three minutes. If we asked The Piano Man to write a tune forecasting the 2020s, it would likely last an hour – and still not cover everything.
The reality is this – the next decade of innovation, experts predict, will be so packed with change that it will eclipse the 100-year period from 1869 to 1969.
“Think about how the world changed, from reconstruction, to a man on the moon, several wars – the innovation that was required,” said Jamey Boiter, the Principal and COO of Charlotte, N.C.-based BOLTGROUP, a design innovation firm. “But think about how we innovate now, and what that means for the next five, six, seven, 10 years. The rate of innovation will be daily – it’s going to be basically 24/7.”
Jamey’s point is spot on – think about how important it was to integrate Zoom into communications in 2020 just to be able to conduct business operations during the pandemic. Having an innovative culture was critical in that moment – and it will continue to be vital to the future of your organization.
According to a Boston Consulting Group study conducted in mid-2020, committed innovators – those who consider innovation to be a top priority and provide dedicated resources to back it up – are 60 percent more successful at generating sales from new products than companies less committed to it.
So, consider this your defining moment, Mr. or Mrs. CEO – you’re either dedicated to growing your brand, or your brand is languishing…or outright dying. If the former is true, innovation will help you grow – but you have to have discipline to do so.
What do we mean by discipline? Jamey and I view it as four pieces of a puzzle:
The discipline to understand the economic health of your business: All too often, I see business owners who simply don’t take the time to understand the economic well-being of their company and of the market at large. I was recently been told by a CEO, “Well, a year ago, we did $3 million. This year, we’re at $3.5 million. We’re up – we’re growing!”
But are they?
It’s perilous to judge the health of your company on two snapshots in time, and not the trends that indicate whether the company is experiencing short-term or long-term growth. Or no growth at all. Positive or negative growth is an active and documentable trend, and a snapshot can’t measure that activity
I also see CEOs fall into the trap of relying on the Dow Jones Industrial Average and other stock market indices. But let’s be honest – the Dow is NOT the economy in which your business competes. Certainly, if your business is growing and the markets are favorable, the skids are greased. But even an unfavorable market can represent a solid growth opportunity, when taken in the proper context.
The Dow is not the market in which you compete!
The discipline to monitor KPIs, tactics, insights, strategies of your sales and marketing efforts: I said it in my last blog, and I’ll reiterate it again – you must build and document your strategic plan before you launch or alter tactics. And you must put the infrastructure in place to measure the ROI of what you create.
Consolidating the “keyest” of key indicators into a performance dashboard is, well, key to being able to gauge which direction the needles are pointing, and to determine which levers you need to pull to keep them moving in the right direction.
Here’s an example culled from my real life: I’m not a good golfer, and I have a massive slice. If I didn’t have the discipline for change, I would simply get up on the tee box each time and say, “If I just try one more time, I won’t slice the ball.” Of course, this never works! Outside of the ball not going where I want it to go, I also have no information to tell me why this is happening. Clearly, hacking away won’t fix the problem. I have to have the discipline and the resources to figure out why I’m slicing, and them implement the solutions to methodically fix it.
The discipline to be process-oriented: “There are no shortcuts,” said Jamey. “In working with serial entrepreneurs, this can be the hardest thing to instill – a level of discipline around process. This is because, some of them hit a home run, and just assume that they’ll find the same piece of luck all over again.”
Instead, we recommend refining through the process. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun to innovate – it just has to be thorough. Much of this ties back to the DISC profile of a CEO – many CEOs are what you would call a high “D” – a dominant personality – and they want to go, go, go, most all the time. That’s why it’s important to take the time to be a C (conscientious) for a while – to look at the data and understand what it tells you, rather than just modeling off the successes of the past.
After all, if you always do what you’ve always done - in the business world you’ll always get a lot less of what you’ve always gotten.
The discipline to build the right team: Creating the right business chemistry is essential. That’s because when it comes time to ideate about innovation, you need to have a careful balance of personality styles around the table. Consider some of the more innovative assessments like The Predictive Index, Strengths Finder, or the Culture Index, which, like the DISC profile, helps identify people based upon how they think and act.
We can assume when it comes to ideation, that we don’t want to be too heavily weighted with the same type of profile across the executive team. Diversity of thought is the name of the game if you want to tap deep into the brainstorming process and figure out truly innovative ways to enhance business growth.
Are you ready to face a world that won’t go back to the way “things were,” but will also advance into the future at a breakneck pace? Now is your chance to be as self-critical as you are curious, and to think about what arrows are missing from your business quiver that will be needed to innovate with purpose. Take the steps today to gather the right insights, develop the best process, and build the right team so you can take advantage of all that 2021 has to offer. You’ll be glad you did.