Leaders: Here Are Three Simple Questions To Inspire Explosive Growth
Innovation and business success seem to go hand in hand. While it may still be possible to run a market report, find an unsatisfied niche within an established industry and fill a void to turn a profit these days, explosive growth is only possible with innovation.
Innovation can quickly become (or already seem to be) a holy grail: significantly valued, sought after regularly, but never discovered. I believe this is often the case because leaders are unwilling to treat innovation as a focused task. Most of our schedules prove that we expect innovation to drop from the sky. If planning the time to think and create is not part of your team’s strategy, then you are relying on chance to remain innovative. Beyond adding the time to your routine, how can you promote a culture of innovation within your organization that creates tangible benefits? It begins by fostering a culture of experimentation and reflection; a place where attempting to innovate is celebrated just as succeeding to innovate is. Learn from failed experiments and share what the company learned from that attempt (you can not hide or punish failed ideas and expect a culture of innovation!). Schedule white space; time alone or with your team to reflect upon goals, conflicts, ongoing projects or completed experiments. Begin a meeting with a few minutes of silence and prompt your team with a few relevant questions to consider during the time. Here are three questions that can get your team started on great innovation.
1. What could our product or service look like five years from now?
Without innovation, your company’s future may be in jeopardy. Consider 7-11 as an excellent example. The nationwide franchise began in Dallas, Texas and it’s primary draw for consumers was selling ice and products that needed to be stored in it. The invention of the refrigerator put many similar companies out of business as they were not prepared for consumers and competitors to have such easy access into their primary product line. However, 7-11 had diversified their products to include a wide range of products. With markets continually ebbing and flowing from one industry to the next, the most profitable companies become those who are the most accurately innovative. In other words, those with the most accurate projections and appropriate follow up actions.
2. How might our customers change?
Your target customer and their values are certain to change over time. An industry that was dominated by companies with superior quality could evolve towards an industry dominated by those with reduced cost. A leadership team who has discussed the most likely upcoming changes will be better prepared and more flexible if a market shift occurs. LendingTree’s recent explosive growth has proven this concept as consumers continue to transition away from local banks and trusted national brands towards the online marketplace for loans and mortgages.
3. How might our processes improve?
Innovation is not contained to end products and services. Your organization needs new ideas for internal processes; particularly in the areas of automation, information, and communication. It is often the drama of big “ah-ha” moments we love to see in news stories, books, and movies, but small discoveries and ideas can have just as much power. Incremental innovations allow businesses, products, and processes to improve gradually over time. An excellent example of this concept is the incredible advantage that Toyota’s production system and their habit of continuous improvement gives their organization.
In “Zero To One: Notes on Startups, Or How To Build The Future,” professor and author Peter Thiel describes the difference between what he calls “vertical” and “horizontal” progress. “If you take one typewriter and build 100, you have made horizontal progress,” Thiel writes. “If you have a typewriter and build a word processor, you have made vertical progress.” This concept can help your team understand what it is you’re looking for when you take time out to innovate and improve processes. If you fail to innovate, your company may still find its niche and turn a profit. But it is nearly certain that if your business does not innovate, explosive growth will forever elude you and your team.