Embrace Change or Die: 4 Experts Reveal How Your Business Can Innovate (And Stay Relevant)


Innovative businesses require innovative people. Hyper-growth companies like Google, Apple or Zappos credit a culture of innovation as their primary driver of success. They take a deliberate approach to fostering creativity at all levels of their organizations, and deploy creative thinking to attack problems big and small. Your startup may not have the resources to innovate like the giants but you are agile enough to embrace change quicker and innovate faster with little resources. The more you are able to integrate this mindset (culture) into your business, the more innovative your business will become.

FORTUNE — Disruptive innovation is the kind that unhinges old ways of operating, juices competition and creates new growth.

1. On disruptive Innovation

Regina Dugan, Google executive, an inventor and technology developer shared this advice about organising for innovation success in an environment swirling with change with CNNMoney’s Patricia Sellers. She advised:

a. Get uncomfortable.
Make a list of the biggest and boldest projects in your company.  Ask yourself how many make you deeply uncomfortable because they could change your fundamental business model.  If a project has disruptive potential, it should make you uncomfortable.

b. Refresh the team constantly.
Ask yourself how many people on your innovation team have been there more than five years. If the answer is “a lot,” you’re in trouble. Then ask yourself how many people on your team are from outside the organisation. If the answer is “almost none,” more trouble. You need fresh thinking from people on the outside as well as the inside. Short tenures create necessary urgency.

c. Create tension.
A disruptive innovation group exists, in part, to create tension. So don’t be surprised when that happens. Disruptive innovation will challenge processes, challenge HR, and challenge your perspective on IP—while it upsets your ideas about who gets to be involved in the development process. The result: the speed and flexibility you need for effective disruptive innovation.

2. Create a structure for unstructured time

Soren Kaplan, the award-winning bestseller of Leapfrogging encourages new businesses to create a culture that makes room for unstructures time. He argues” Innovation needs time to develop. No one ever feels like they have time to spare. People get so consumed with putting out fires and chasing short-term targets that most can’t even think about the future.

Giving up control when the pressure is greatest is the ultimate innovation paradox. That’s why iconic brands like 3M and Google give their employees about 10% “free time” to experiment with new ideas. The software company Atlassian encourages employees to take “FedEx Days”–paid days off to work on any problem they want. But there’s a catch: Just like FedEx, they must deliver something of value 24 hours later.

Companies such as Intuit use time as a reward because they believe it’s the biggest motivator of corporate intrapreneurs. Intuit gives its best business innovators three months of “unstructured” time that can be used in one big chunk or spread out over six months for part-time exploration of new opportunities. So using time wisely creates a major incentive to get more time to play with (hopefully wisely).

3. Finding the extraordinary in ordinary places

Warren Berger, the author of A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas) explained in his four phases of design thinking article on Harvard Business Review that successful designers find new ideas in seemingly mundane places. Here are his four steps to finding something original in the ordinary:

a. Question. Don’t just ask the obvious questions. Look deeper and don’t be afraid to rethink basic fundamentals about your business and products.

b. Care. Caring doesn’t just mean giving great customer service. Get to know your customers as intimately as possible. Immerse yourself in the lives of the people you are trying to serve.

c. Connect. Find ways to bring together concepts, people, and products. Many great breakthroughs are “mash-ups” of existing ideas.

d. Commit. Give form to your idea as quickly as possible: create a prototype and begin testing it right away. This is the only way to know if you’ve touched on something truly promising.

4. The 15-Minute Competitive Advantage

According to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School and the author of  Confidence and SuperCorp, these characteristics of innovations are most likely to succeed at gaining support in any business that intends to innovate or change.

a. Trial-able: The idea or product can be demonstrated on a pilot basis. Customers can see it in action first and incorporate it on a small scale before committing to replace everything.

b. Divisible: It can be adopted in segments or phases. Users can ease into it, a step at a time. They can even use it in parallel with current solutions.

c. Reversible: If it doesn’t work, it’s possible to return to pre-innovation status. Eventually you want life to be unimaginable without it, but at least in theory, it’s possible to go back to zero.

d. Tangible: It offers concrete results that can be seen to make a difference in something that users need and value.

e. Fits prior investments: The idea builds on “sunk costs” or actions already taken, so it looks like not much change is involved.

f. Familiar: It feels like things that people already understand, so it is not jarring to use. It is consistent with other experiences, especially successful ones.

g. Congruent with future direction: It is in line with where things are heading anyway. It doesn’t require people to rethink their priorities or pathways, even though of course it changes things.

Innovation is hard to embrace. It takes persistent focus, openness, and  the desire to see real change. Embrace change and witness the great impact it can have on your overall success now and in the future or risk dying in the age of uncertainty.