My blog posting ten days ago (a “Memo to the CEO”) stirred up quite a bit of interest and response. In the item, I noted that the most important thing CEO’s “can do *right now*, as you work to navigate your way through the challenging economic shoals that surround you, is to make sure that you don’t kill innovation in its tracks.” A few readers asked, “ok, so what do we do to ensure we keep innovating?” I had a teleconference with a client today, planning for an upcoming leadership event. Here’s what I came away from the call with — my ideas on bringing some focus to their innovation mindset — based upon the rapid market change they are encountering:
- Study air guitar. There’s innovation, and then there’s market transformation. While Sony and Microsoft spent their time developing a faster video game machine, Nintendo transformed the video game marketplace with the Wii by introducing wireless 3-d spatial action to video gaming. That helped to refresh enthusiasm for the already-popular GuitarHero game — since people could now do wireless GuitarHero. An entire generation of baby-boomers who mastered air guitar in the 70’s who could never figure out an X-Box controller — are now video game customers! Search YouTube for grannies playing Guitar Hero, and you’ll see the results. That’s an organization that has taken innovation to the next step! Not just innovation, but transformation.
- Energize your brand. If your brand looks tired, your customers will see it as tired. Once that happens, you’ll start to lose all the equity you’ve built up. Brands today need to be full of energy; I spent time with a company last week that is re-approaching the world of brand-image with enthusiasm and passion. There was a lot of energy, and I suspect we will see that continue over time.
- Fail faster. Imagine that you are a company that has some stuff that will help to make the next market of LED TV’s happen fast. Imagine that you can’t decide whether to get involved or not. Imagine that your competitor has already worked on three prototype projects with the new platform. Who is going to win?
- Check your bench strength. Really smart people with the ability to get into self-assembling project teams are your best hope for the future. And the fact is, their skills are continuing to be in extremely short supply as everybody becomes more of a specialist. If you don’t have an organization that can expand, contract and collaborate at will, drawing the capabilities of your A-team, you’ve got a big problem.
- Scare yourself. Do you know who your new competition will be five years from now? Think Google Car, iPlane, WalMart Hip Replacements. I know I’ve used this example before, but markets and industries are seeing big transformations with the rapid emergence of new competitors, and you need to be thinking about that.
- Check your speed. How fast can you innovate? Perform? Undertake miracles? Tackle a problem? I’m still on a mailing list for the Sporiting Goods Manufacturing Association; I keynoted their conference last year. This week, members are scrambling to deal with a fast new environmental challenge. Surviving todays’ economy is all about how quickly you can assemble and reassemble your team to fix fast problems; that the SGMA is doing this is indicative of an industry that is learning to think and act fast.
- Invest in experience. Get a bit crazy. Try things out. Study my “Where’s the Growth” document, and find out where your own market growth potential is. Rush a few new products or services to markets, and find out what you learn from the process. The insight your team gains in learning how to innovate will be extremely valuable. It’s called experiential capital, and it’s the new currency of the 21st century. The more you have, the better you’ll be positioned. Innovation isn’t something you just do: it’s a culture, and a mindset that you invest in. By doing things.
- Set the tone. If you let the current economic headlines drive your corporate spirit, you’re sunk. You have to keep people focused on the future — otherwise, your team will smell your fear. Leadership is all about keeping your team focused on opportunity and goals, not on ongoing and regular (“new normal” volatility.
I’m seeing innovative leaders do innovative things, and there’s a certain core theme that is out there.