Innovation as the key to enduring success
“O homem e do tamanho dos seus sonhos” (Man is the size of his dreams), once wrote the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. By analogy, I would say the same applies to a business. Ambition and boldness have long been a recipe for success once it is backed up by goals, a strategy and ultimately action. Nevertheless, organisations are often reluctant to stray away from what has worked in the past – as if past successes worked as an anchor to entrepreneurial spirits. Innovation – the continuous process of replacing the old with the new – requires businesses to take a leap of faith on some projects and initiatives – once in a while – a big ask, it seems.
The Risk of Inaction
In the UK, the recent demise of high street brands BHS and Austin Reed is a stark reminder of what are the risks of inaction to a business. Meanwhile, the rise of store less, tech giant Amazon into the clothing business looks unstoppable. An article in The Economist, (“Amazon Clothing Coup”), details how the digital, logistics and ecommerce business is aggressively taking market share while most of the incumbent competition is reporting slumps in sales.
The organisation is seldom ready for it
Disruption, transformation and innovation are all trending words these days. When speaking with my peers in technology, however, the feeling I get is that many organisations have launched one initiative or another, but mostly half-heartedly. No coordinated and consistent support from the top, no clear internal communication on its importance, no meaningful budget. In short: no soul.
From a somewhat simplistic perspective, organisations are essentially made up of people and processes. Innovation and the change it represents must be instilled at the very core of both. From top to bottom, everyone in every team should understand its importance, how it will affect his/her work and ultimately embrace it. Processes must be agile and flexible so as to accommodate the disruption owing to changes, of which some will be unsuccessful.
Most of us strive for predictability and clarity in scope, timeline and costs – it is in our nature as managers. Nevertheless, Innovation requires an uncomfortable element of randomness and volatility that goes against human instincts and the will of the markets.
Then there is anxiety created by the fear of failure. As many companies’ culture tacitly penalizes failure, fear permeates the innovator’s mind. That, in turn, clouds the creative process and negatively affects the desired outcome: coming up with something really new.
Acting on an innovative project is a challenge and is certainly not for the faint hearted. One knows how it is going to start but not how it is going to end – or worse, if it ever successfully will. Planning helps but unexpected issues and hiccups are encountered at every step of the way: it is the inevitable path to evolution, taking one step backward in order to take 2 forward.
Run an Anti-Fragile Execution
Anti-fragility is defined by Nicholas Nassim Taleb “as a property of systems that increase in capability, resilience, or robustness as a result of stressors, shocks…”, in other words: the more stressors act on it, the stronger it gets.
Anti-Fragility is therefore an essential component of a successful innovation project. The more technical issues are found, the more the project team learns, improves and strengthens. The more doubters there are, the stronger the willingness to engage, debate and convince, in order to see the project through to a positive completion.
It all starts with a mind-set. Perceiving your mission to innovate and change your surrounding environment as Anti-Fragile. As such one knows that there can only be positive outcomes (either one succeeds or one learns).
Dream big, act big, win big
In summary, for what is worth, here are my suggestions to businesses:
- Dream big. Without ambition, innovation will never find fertile ground.
- Constantly Innovate. Create a culture that promotes constant change in the enterprise. Kick off initiatives: Open mindedly, full-heartedly and recurringly. Getting the basics right is evidently important, but so is to allow some latitude to creatively if not radically re-design a process or business model.
- Fail fast. Many innovative projects and executions will fail, the experience of such failures are a boon to a business, if not to the ego. From failure to failure, knowledge is built paving the way for future success.
- Fight the fear of the unknown: Organizations must be able to move past the fear of attempting what was not done before, else evolution can never materialise.
“Tudo é ousado para quem nada se atreve.” (Everything is bold for whom dare to nothing).
Worth noting in business as much as in life.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author in his personal capacity and not those of his employer