In today's demanding climate, the only certainty on which business leaders can rely is the guarantee of uncertainty. Change is inevitable, speed is critical and if your company can't keep up, the competition will. The marketplace moves as fast as it wants to, and if we don't embrace experimentation--testing and refining at a rapid click--we fail.
It can be exhilarating, as I've experienced firsthand leading an entrepreneurial team focused on innovation at Farmers Insurance over the past year. But it required a shift in mindset, and the change was anything but automatic. From thought processes to job processes, it was important to hit the reset button and ask how my team and I could make the biggest impact possible.
Eventually, we realized that we had to allow ourselves to shift from the confidence born of best practices toward the uncertainty and potential of, "Let's test and learn." So I set out to take stock of what I've learned in the process. It's my hope that others who find themselves changing focus or position, or who feel just a bit stuck in a rut, will find inspiration in what worked (and what didn't work) for us.
Ditch the baggage
Start with a blank slate. If you want to end up somewhere new, you have to take a new road. Our goal was to reinvent a product for a very specific target demographic, and much of our success came down to the challenge we set for ourselves from the start: We knew we had to clear our minds of any old baggage if we were going to find a fresh solution.
It's not always possible to take leave of everything, but to the extent that you can, cast off restrictions in the name of arriving at the best possible solution. You might find that your existing processes or structures are effective, but you may also find that the best path forward requires change.
Be deliberate and user-dictated
Give yourself the creative freedom to explore new territory, but learn to filter that creativity through the lens of target audiences, collective insights and research findings. Because what is innovation if not a change made in the name of customer experience and expectations? Let the customer's pain point became your north star, the thing that guides you toward fresh paths.
Basing all decisions upon deep customer insights is, perhaps more than anything else, what sets successful adapters apart. Look at Netflix, for example. First they saved customers the trip to the video store by sending DVDs directly to their mailboxes. When physical media began to falter, Netflix took the leap into streaming video and essentially defined a new vertical. Both of those innovations cut directly to customer experience, a problem waiting to be solved, and offered huge improvements in how people could access content. Approaching your organization's goals and challenges with that same laser focus on customer experience is a critical component in disruptive thinking.
Make the best decision at the time
There's an old adage that warns us not to let perfect be the enemy of good, a concept I quickly internalized when it became clear that the keys to success in a multi-billion dollar, established enterprise can also be the barriers to breakthrough in a startup environment.
In the race to remain relevant, if you stubbornly hold out for perfect, you risk being left behind. It can be extraordinarily challenging, but making the right decision at the right time doesn't mean settling for the wrong decision in the long-term. It's acknowledging that business is fluid, and the present has to take shape before the future can.
Which brings me to the final piece that ties all of these ideas together: Don't stop. Innovative thinking calls for a shark-like approach to work. You have to keep moving forward. If a decision is wrong, it's wrong. But it's not the end. Don't double down. Don't hold tight to your pride. Don't waste time complaining. Learn from it and use it as fuel for your next iteration... keeping moving. If you got it right, it can still be better. Celebrate it and move on. And through all of it, never stop reframing your thoughts and reconsidering your questions -- you never know when the right answer will strike you.