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What’s New With Innovation?

August 15, 2016

birds-wire-23805605.jpgInnovation has been with us, if not since the dawn of time, then, at the very least, since that day somebody invented the wheel. In science, there were Gallileo, Newton, Darwin and Einstein. In art, Giotto, Da Vinci, Cézanne and Duchamp. Name any discipline, activity, pursuit or interest. You can be sure it has a rich history of contributors who have all raised the bar in some spectacular fashion. Thought of in a certain way, innovation is to be expected. Somebody, somewhere, is bound to shift the paradigm, sooner or later. That’s just how human nature works. So why does innovation – the word, at least, if not the true concept – suddenly seem in vogue, as if it had been out of favor for the last several centuries? Why this sudden obsession? Why all the conferences and summits? Why all the webinars and business books? It turns out there’s a very important reason.

The world is speeding up, exponentially. It’s a cliché by now. We all know that technology gets faster and more powerful every year. Automation is de rigueur in pretty much every occupation. All walks of life are affected. But business, in particular, seems most vulnerable to its ill effects. Technology may improve medicine but when it “improves” business, entire professions can disappear overnight. Remember typographers? As I write this, I’m also choosing the font, size, leading and measure, deciding how I want you to see the words in written form, and setting everything as I go. Nobody needs typographers anymore. I learned, recently, that the most common occupation claimed on American tax returns is: driver. So, now, the thought of driverless vehicles being just around the corner is terrifying. Drivers going the way of typographers could cause severe social and political turmoil.

The word we have for these enormous upheavals in the way we occupy ourselves is: disruption. I tell owners of brand assets that they need to be thinking about their brand every single day. First, to see how the ebbs and flows of everyday market currents influence their brand and its relationship to its market. If you’re not paying close attention, you can drift or be driven off course and not even realize it. But the second reason brand managers need to be on constant, daily, alert is to keep a weather eye on the horizon. You need to spot when Hurricane Disruption first appears. You never know when it’s coming, or from where. You just know that it is coming and there will be more and more storms showing up behind the first one.

So why is innovation, as a business tactic, now more important than ever? Because innovation is the best response to disruption, perhaps the only response. If disruption can be expected to cause disorder in the markets with greater and greater frequency, then businesses urgently need to build innovation into their workaday routine. But routine innovation is an oxymoron. An Innovation Committee that meets regularly and tries to figure out how to be innovative is something straight out of a Dilbert comic strip. So don’t set up a standing committee.

Instead, businesses should strive for a culture of innovation. And that requires a commitment from leadership. That grows from having someone at the top who’s willing to break through silos and tear up organizational charts when the situation calls for it. Not every day, of course; that would be chaos. But when facing an intractable challenge or disruptive force, the corporate culture should be prepared, not just to think outside the box but, to get completely outside the box.

It usually means setting up an ad hoc team (not a committee) to find an answer to the problem. The team should be cross-functional and as diverse as possible. If the problem is in sales, don’t just assign sales and marketing to solve it. Bring in someone from design, from R&D, from operations, from manufacturing, from HR, from the motor pool. Make sure there are old hands and young hires represented – both genders, every ethnicity. Don’t restrict your sources of good ideas. More precisely, don’t restrict the number of lenses through which the problem can be observed. And make sure senior management – the C-suite – stays off the team. They’ll have no new information to add and their presence will inhibit the free flow of ideas from others.

Of course, a culture of innovation requires more than just putting teams together to address specific problems. That culture needs to be populated by people who thrive on innovation, on devising new ways to view problems, of learning new technologies, processes and languages with which to solve problems. Businesses need to screen for these characteristics when hiring. But that’s a subject for another post. See here.

Best Branding Reads – Week of August 15, 2016

Why Strong Brands Drive B2B Markets
Branding may be even more valuable in the B2B world.

5 Signs Your Brand Is Fading
Do you recognize any of these warning signs? If so, get help fast!

Leveraging Your Competitor’s Brand Assets
This is why you should know every thing you can about your competitors’ brand strategies.

Dropping Anchor in the Sea of Identity
Businesses should not make the mistake of skipping over their Purpose Statement. 

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This small improvement should finally demonstrate to the Bernie-or-busters that progress is, indeed, incremental.

Boston burger chain accuses Chipotle of ripping off name and logo
You be the judge, readers. And let’s hear from all the trademark attorneys out there.

Arianna Huffington Focuses on Growth of Wellness Field with Thrive Global
This is probably a smart move for A.H. But I’m still wondering if there can really be a Huffington Post without a Huffington.

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