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Cartoon: CEO says 'innovation' employees hear 'change'

Innovation = Change

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

Innovation is change. The more innovative an idea is the greater the change. A bold new product idea means changing the production process, changing marketing actions, changing sales strategy and more. A process efficiency innovation means changing the way people work. Certain skillsets may no longer be relevant and that means that people will need to be retrained or, in the worst case, dismissed. People say they like innovation. They say that innovation is very important. But people also tend not to like change very much. The thing is, you cannot innovate without creating change. This is a big reason why large organisations find it difficult to implement real innovation: adversity to change.

If you are in charge of innovation, this leads to two challenges: selling innovative ideas internally and implementing those ideas, especially when they are truly innovative.

Selling Change

When you try and sell your new idea, colleagues and senior managers will focus on the change and use it as a factor for rejection. "It will never work!" "Our customers won't like it." "We've been doing it this way for 20 years, why change?" Rejections like these are all basically saying: "the implementation of that idea will lead to more change than I feel comfortable with."

How do you deal with this? Very likely, you sell ideas to decision makers by arguing the each idea's merits. While this is important, it is not necessarily effective. You talk merits. The decision maker hears change. While you definitely need to identify an innovation's merits, I suggest you also discuss the consequences if you were not to implement the idea and a competitor were to do so and succeed brilliantly. It would almost certainly leave your company needing to make big changes to keep up with that competitor or coping with the consequences of not acting.

 Following the launch of Apple's iPhone, Steve Ballmer and Jim Balsillie, then the CEOs of Microsoft and RIM (makers of the Blackberry), both publicly stated the new phone would fail. It did not and both companies eventually had to scramble to devise products similar to Apple's. RIM, a once innovative leader in multifunctional mobile devices lost 87% of its market share over three years. . That's not a very nice change.

When Competitors Innovate, You Also Need to Change

And this is a painful, but important point. Innovation means not only change for the company implementing the idea, but also for their competitors and others with a stake in the market. If one of your competitors launches a bold new product idea and it succeeds, you will have little choice but to respond, either with a similar product change or by improving your existing product in ways you hope your customers will value more than the new product − something that Blackberry did, with little success.

If a competitor launches a process change that allows them to cut costs significantly, they can undercut your prices while still maintaining a comfortable margin, leaving you little choice but to cut prices without the margin or try and copy their change.

And, the only thing worse than change that you initiate is change that is forced upon you. You do not have first mover advantage. You may have to purchase intellectual property rights owned by the competitor. You may have to lay off people because your competitor is taking too much market share while you are scrambling to offer your customers something similar.

So, if you believe your idea is truly a great one, sell it on its merits. And when decision makers criticise it, ask them to consider the scenario in which your number one competitor launches the idea and succeeds. Ask the decision maker what would happen then.

Implementing Change

Assuming you convince your decision maker to go ahead with the idea − or, if you are the decision maker − the next step is to implement the idea and the associated changes. This may not be easy. If managers are not keen on the new idea, their direct reports will be even less enthusiastic. For them, it is not innovation so much as change forced upon them; it is change over which they feel they have little control.

As a result, people will be reluctant to implement the idea. They will find problems that enable them to say, "I knew this idea would never work!" And when people do not want change to work, they do not try as hard as people who do want it to work. Little problems they could probably solve are proclaimed insoluble. A sales person with a well honed pitch for your existing products, and who is doubtful about a new product, may subconsciously put less enthusiasm into her new pitch for the new product. A factory worker who is put in charge of new robots may not believe that robots can do such a good job as she and her human team did and so may not manage the robots as well as she should.

A good way to overcome this kind of challenge is to give people a stake in the innovation; make them feel they have some control over the change. You can do this by involving them in the implementation planning.  

Breaking Down Steps

In order to make the implementation of the idea manageable, break up the implementation into into manageable steps and then organise the steps into a path from where you are now to implementation of the idea. Then review the overall plan as well as each step. If a step still seems overly intimidating, break it up further.  (You can read more about this process here)

Once you have done this, identify who will be affected by each step and create teams of stakeholders to plan each step. This turns people affected by change into stakeholders in the success of the change. When they complain that something will not work, ask them how to make it work. When they identify a flaw, ask them how to fix it. Be flexible, the collaborative implementation plan may not seem as elegant as yours, but it is more likely to work than your plan because it has been designed by the people who need to implement it.

The Alternative Is Not Pretty

If this all seems like too much work, bear in mind that the alternative is that you do not change, which means you do not innovate. Instead, a competitor implements a similar innovation, leaving you no choice but to respond, either by doing something similar but better or by suffering the consequences if your competitor succeeds. Either of those choices is less than ideal and forces your entire organisation into change over which it has far less control than if it was the innovator.

No. It is far better to be the instigator of change than to be the victim of change.


A Little Help Is Available (Self-Promotion)

If you need help instigating change that comes from innovation, I can probably help. Contact me and let's talk.



Want to Discuss This With Me?

If so, get in touch. I'd love to chat about it with you!

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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium




My other web projects

My other web projects 100s of articles, videos and cartoons on creativity - possibly useful things I have learned over the years. reflections on international living and travel. - paintings, drawings, photographs and cartoons by Jeffrey