What do we mean when we say that every company, every organization, needs to continually innovate?
It means that every company and every organization needs to continually innovate! Or, they will be left behind, and maybe even cease to exist.
There is no alternative.
This post is prompted by a question that I asked a good friend. First, the background. There is an article critical of the TED conference, written by Nathan Jurgenson. (I read about it on Andrew Sullivan’s blog: TED Talks: “The Urban Outfitters Of The Ideas World. The full article, Against TED, is available at The New Inquiry here).
I am a big fan of TED; I have watched many of the videos, and shown them to my speech students. I’m not sure that I buy Jurgenson’s criticism. Here is one line from his article:
At TED, “everyone is Steve Jobs” and every idea is treated like an iPad.
Now, I own an iPad, I have presented a synopsis of the Isaacson Steve Jobs biography, I am a raving fan of the innovation of Apple, and I got to thinking… Is it in fact “fair” to compare all companies and organizations to Apple? Should we expect that level of innovation in all the rest of the world of business, and nonprofits? In other words, does every company and every organization need to continually innovate?
Now, acknowledging the obvious, that genius like Steve Jobs’ genius is not available for purchase on the shelf at your local grocery store, let me say that yes, the quote is not that far off: “At TED, “everyone is Steve Jobs” and every idea is treated like an iPad.” And, that is what we should do with ideas. We should keep looking for that next profitable, successful idea, and then the next one, and then the next next one. It is the only path to innovation. And if we do not continually innovate, we are in deep, deep trouble.
After reading the TED criticism, I called a friend of mine; an exceptional business consultant/coach. You’ve seen his face on TV, representing a company that became more successful with his help. My question went something like this:
“I know that companies that are directly impacted by technology have to keep innovating. But, does every company have to continually innovate? Aren’t there companies that simply provide a product of service, and basically they keep providing the same product or service. Oh, sure, they will upgrade their software occasionally. But, continually innovate? Really?”
I wondered if this pressure to continually innovate just might not be so “necessary” in quite a few arenas.
Well, this is a smart man, and when he was through with me, I was fully whipped. He told me of one client of his: they provide a product that was basically put out of business by a previously unknown competitor who developed a cheaper, better way to provide the same product. It had to do with what goes inside the “shell” of the product that they manufactured and sold. So, this company had to adapt, quickly. They had to modify what they put inside their own shell, find a new market for their product, and then churn out the product for less than they thought possible. Their innovation saved their company – and quite a few jobs. If they had failed to innovate, they would have had to close the doors.
I started thinking about other examples — example after example. Just look around. What restaurants did you used to eat at – and they are now shuttered? (Does anyone else miss the Steak & Ale salad bar?) What about hotels that you used to stay at? Recently, my wife and I stayed at a three year old Holiday Inn. It is nothing! like the Holiday Inns we stayed at early in our marriage (we married back in the dark ages, when there was no cable TV, not even a remote control, and tennis rackets were still made of wood. I played with a Jack Kramer autograph).
Maybe the only path forward is to treat every new idea like an iPad – a breakthrough for this moment, but soon to be outdated by the new version. Someone will come up with the new version. It is better that you do this yourself.
No matter what your business, it really is a “you’d better learn how to continually innovate” world out there. And here is the value of TED. TED, if nothing else, keeps asking, “Since the world is going to keep changing, what are the ideas that will drive that change in the best direction?”
Look at the TED logo — it is right there in the wording: “Ideas Worth Spreading.”
And out of these presentations, and the many conversations that such a conference and on-line resource sparks, (and, of course, the many other conferences and conversations from other sources), we think about the future differently. And so we ask, how can we do our job better? How can we continually innovate?
Somebody is asking that question right now — someone who is itching to put some other company out of business. Not because they are mean (though they may be); it is just that they want to build a profitable enterprise themselves. They want the customers, and if that means taking them from you, then so be it. And so somebody keeps looking for that next, better idea.
You’ll be smarter if you make that somebody “you.”