To become a business that generation after generation trusts, your organization has to keep innovating over the long haul. That's ridiculously difficult even for Millennial brands given how fast consumer tastes change in today's market, according to Nis Frome, co-founder of user insights platform Alpha. Gone are the days when you have the time to focus exclusively on merely scaling what works.
But Frome says it's not just the market's excessive fluidity that's at fault. There are two other mental issues that get in the way of properly scaling and maintaining a creative spark along the way.
"After working in an industry for several years and getting the lay of the land," Frome asserts, "some business leaders start to feel that they've learned all there is to know, and that's where you see innovation start to slump. The confidence that comes with experience can blind a leader to market changes and the need to continuously reinvent your business."
And then there's the perceived need for concrete measurability.
"While companies have clear incentives to scale business, they often lack the correct incentives to innovate because innovation is inherently difficult to measure. Without traditional performance indicators to map to, leaders struggle to motivate their teams around the concept. Instead, they pursue a more tangible goal like increasing engagement or achieving quotas, which we've seen as a turning point for companies. Once a team is organized around that, the ability to innovate becomes exponentially more elusive."
Even if you can get your own expertise out of the way and manage to convince your team and shareholders that progress doesn't always have a number on it, you then have to be clear about where you really want to target your innovation efforts. That requires getting feedback and communicating directly with customers. And while you of course need to be aware of trends and shifts, you need to think about the processes for investing in validated opportunities, too.
"Companies tend to think of their innovation and scaling activities as independent of one another," Frome says, "but pursuing innovation is most productive when it's aligned with systematic scaling efforts."
As an example, Frome compares Xerox and Apple. Xerox had an amazing opportunity when they invented the graphical user interface. But they stayed focused on products for the present and failed to commercialize it. They failed to see the broad potential and offered workers no incentive or capability to experiment. Apple, however, leveraged the concept to become the first trillion-dollar company in the world.
So here are 3 big tips for keeping good innovation habits as you scale:
1. Encourage a growth mindset.
"The day you launch a product, you have become an incumbent and are exponentially more susceptible to being blinded by your own assumptions. No matter how long you've been in your industry, keep an open mind and stay willing to learn. It will help you adjust in a dynamic environment."
If you need a role model here, consider Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Before Nadella, Microsoft was focused too heavily on Windows. But Nadella stressed empathetic collaboration, and he took a top-down approach to fostering a culture of learning. He helped the company see the value of being flexible in thinking and handling opportunities, and he was able to convince the company that its cloud-based services (e.g, Azure and Microsoft 365) were the right path to take. That transformation has repositioned Microsoft as a tough competitor against other businesses creating their own fantastic ideas.
2. Encourage your organization's speed-to-insight.
"In a 2017 letter to shareholders," Frome says, "CEO Jeff Bezos illustrated the decision-making framework his organization uses to continually deliver value to the market faster:
'Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you're probably being slow...If you're good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.'
"As a rule, Amazon encourages employees to quickly generate 70% of the information needed in order to make a decision, so long as that decision is adjusted afterward with rapid iteration. Companies can create great experiences by making small bets that offer directional insight into customer preferences, and building on those insights."
Research proves that people tend to make decisions with less information than they think, anyway, so you're likely not going to sacrifice anything if you adopt Bezos' practice and reasonably reduce the data you acquire and analyze.
3. Showcase success stories.
"While top-down buy-in will create the right environment and incentives for continued progress, entrenched behaviors won't change overnight. In large organizations, success needs to be showcased, evangelized, and, at times, politicized. It has to be presented as a path to career advancement. The two most powerful ways to do this are data and stories."