We are living in a time where uncertainty is palpable. Predicting the next steps and committing to decisions that will play out in the next five years have become increasingly difficult for business leaders.
The only way to circumvent future challenges, it seems, is by channelling our creativity. According to one IBM survey of more than 1,500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, successfully navigating a progressively complex world will require creativity more than rigour, management discipline, integrity, and vision combined.
If we are to see our companies through to the future, we are expected to dig deep and tap into our creativity reservoirs. Turn fresh ideas into tangible processes, products, or services that disrupt the status quo. Additionally, we are responsible for fostering a “creative thinking” culture within our organisations because — as we already know — we cannot do it alone.
In other words, we are expected to hone our ability to innovate on demand, especially in answering questions like: What is our next revolutionary product? What service can change the game and put us/keep us on the map? What compelling vision can change the way my industry sees XYZ forever? What is the best process that will get us there?
One hurdle business leaders often face is the overwhelming fear of going beyond what is comfortable. At many levels of almost every organisation, there seems to be an unconscious tendency to stifle creative business disciplines since new ways of doing things often come with great risk.
This renders creative thinkers powerless to overcome these obstacles and use their creative capabilities to effectively pursue opportunities and tackle changes as they come.
A number of industry giants, including Kodak, Nokia, and Blockbuster, have already succumbed to this diminishing way of doing business. Without creating or tapping into new sources of value — whatever that may mean to our respective target markets, shareholders, or stakeholders — most businesses eventually shrivel up or fade from the limelight.
Innovation remains the one crucial aspect that keeps companies relevant in the face of relentless change. Without it, the competition will find ways to deliver the same products and services more effectively and efficiently.
In this first instalment to our Owning Your Industry series, we go beyond the obvious suggestions, such as funding, market research, or brainstorming new ideas.
Instead, we talk about the two factors that businesses often neglect when it comes to leveraging innovation as a means to reach industry leader status and stay there.
Business thinking is logical, innovation thinking is intuitive. Business thinking is inductive/deductive reasoning (developing/testing theories), innovation thinking is abductive reasoning (making the best conclusions from available information and acting on them). Business thinking requires proof to succeed, innovation thinking asks what if.
Business thinking looks for precedents, innovation thinking is unconstrained by the past. Business thinking is quick to decide, innovation thinking holds multiple possibilities. Business thinking is believing there is a right way and a wrong way, innovation thinking — like the scale-up specialists at BeingIconic — believes there is always a better way.
Business thinking sees ambiguity as a problem, innovation thinking views it as an advantage. Business thinking wants results, innovation thinking wants meaning.
Innovation thinking injects new ideas and vitality into leadership roles. It fortifies the organisation’s ability to disrupt its industry. We are not saying that organisations must do away with business thinking altogether and solely adopt innovation thinking.
Instead, we suggest adding innovation thinking to an already robust arsenal of skills, tools, and processes built on the foundation of traditional business thinking.
We encourage business leaders to foster a culture that hones every employee’s ability, as well as their own, to switch between these two modes of thinking in order to mitigate complexity, bypass “silos” (which places the burden of innovation on only one department), and set the company up for sustainable success even amid uncertain times.
Organisations with a longer-term, more strategic game plan are more confident in taking steps in the name of both radical and incremental innovation. This is because the overarching scheme supports all focus to be on the big picture instead of short-term victories and profits.
They are ultimately more successful in responding to new market opportunities because they are less risk-averse and set more ambitious growth targets. This fact is supported by one Future-Proofing Survey, which reports that of the 23% mid-sized companies that do not have a game plan, half of them predict zero growth within the next 12 months despite 69% of CFOs claiming growth is a business priority.
Supporting and encouraging innovation only when it is convenient presents more drawbacks within the organisation. A well-developed plan for the future leads to growth — this has been proven time and again.
However, with such plans come a highly structured approach that turns off most leaders. They believe that taking such a systematic strategy for innovation efforts adulterates creativity. We beg to differ.
In fact, building a robust framework that streamlines the process of prioritising ideas and measuring success ensures uniformity in resource allocation and information dissemination. In turn, enabling teams to simultaneously work on more than one project efficiently while gaining access to new information and increasing chances of overall success.
Without structure, innovation happens in silos and the business can only zone in on just one idea. This then increases the risk of “blind spots” and wasted time, money, and effort.
To proactively pursue innovation, businesses are required to gain access to substantial resources and have purposeful focus. It needs two things: 1) a top-to-bottom balancing act between traditional business thinking and innovation thinking and 2) the development and adoption of powerful structures that value and nurture creativity. If businesses prioritise these two aspects on top of other requirements for success, the path toward becoming industry leaders will be seamless.