“Dazed and confused? There’s still time to change the road you’re on!” – Futurist Jim Carroll
I’m over in Dublin, Ireland, and spent the day yesterday visiting the town where the ancestors on my mom’s side are from. The result is that I’ve had little time to prepare today’s quote. On occasion – and in the spirit of posting every day as I have since 2016 – I will sometimes share an older blog post that still bears relevance today.
I wrote this post on the idea of “Led Zeppelin Leadership” way back in 2008, and it still seems to resonate today!
At a particular keynote last week, I met several senior executives who certainly agreed with my main message – we need to constantly realign our company to the reality of the fast change that surrounds it. That’s where innovation comes from. But they also indicated that they found it increasingly difficult to keep up with the rapid change occurring all around them – and are uncertain about their path forward.
That’s not surprising. There’s been an increasing number of these individuals in my audiences, and I’ve come to call them the Led Zeppelin refugees: they’re simply dazed by the changes occurring in the high-velocity economy around them, and are confused about what to do next. They might be undertaking some of the worst possible steps forward or are uncertain as to what to do next – but the key thing is that there is still time for them to change the road they are on. (My apologies to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.)
That’s why there’s such a good question that flows from this conundrum: just how do you become an organization that is focused on innovation?
One of the easiest methods is simply identifying the obvious and the not-so-obvious trends that will impact your business or organization — and then taking the time to figure out what actions you must undertake to deal with those trends. Ask yourself this question: are you prepared for what comes next in terms of your business? The likely answer is no: my experience is that many organizations still have a very short-term-minded outlook. They’re caught in an innovation rut, simply doing day by day the same old things they’ve always been doing, day in and day out. And they don’t think about how their world is going to change. That’s why you should undertake a “trend-and-innovation” audit of your organization: quite simply, figuring out what comes next, and what you need to do about it.
How can you do this? By asking yourself a series of questions:
- How quickly is our marketplace changing? How quickly might it change in the future? What’s the impact on what I sell, and how I sell it?
- How are our products changing? Will they change faster in terms of features? Will support become easier, or more complex? Can we manage to operate in a faster market?
- Are our products moving upscale, or are they becoming commodities, such that you’ll be forced to compete on price? Can we do something so that there is more of a service element to our product?
- What new competitors are appearing, or might emerge in the future? Is the basic business model threatened? Is there more likelihood of direct outreach to the consumer rather than through an existing distributor/wholesaler network?
- What moves could we make to make sure we can remain competitive? You really must ask yourself some probing questions as you go through this process. You need to challenge yourself and think about what might be different in five years, in terms of what you sell, who you sell to, how you sell it, and who you are selling against.
What you need to do is ask yourself these tough questions, so that you’re thinking about where there might be new problems and new opportunities that will impact your business in the future, not just in terms of what you sell, but in terms of the structure that you use to get things done. That will give you a bit of an idea of your path forward.
And therein lies the rub: I think a lot of organizations fail to do this type of simple analysis. There are too many who sit back and react to change instead of thinking: “ok we know some big change is coming what the heck are we going to do about it?” Think of it as forward-oriented innovation: it’s a simple concept and one of the most important things you should be doing.
And once you do that, there is a real opportunity for you to begin moving forward. If you are stuck in a state of aggressive indecision, there is still time for you to change the road you’re on. Because you’ve got the perfect opportunity to build yourself a stairway to innovation.
Do this, and the future won’t leave you comfortably numb. But that’s a whole other band, ripe for the opportunities of creative wordsmithing.