Traditional_and_Modern_-_Kochi_-_India_-_June_2008Me: “Next year you have a lot of change happening.”

My clients, wiping away tears of laughter: “What else is new?”

There’s a lot of interest in innovation, and for good reason. The notion that we’re all going to be doing about the same thing, with about the same tools, in about the same way, a decade from now… does that sound plausible to anyone?

But if you have an established business or organization, it is very tough to invest in innovation while at the same maintaining your core businesses. Even if you see the way the wind is blowing, you have to let go of things that don’t fit any more, and you have to lead your organization into the future without alienating (too many) people.

I heard Rita Gunther McGrath speak the other day at the Rotman School, and while she was talking about the end of competitive advantage (at least the kind of competitive advantage you can count on sticking around for at least a few years), she talked a fair bit about organizations needing to make small bets in innovation. It’s not about the big whizbang change moment. It’s about ongoing innovation. You might have to make some commitments along the way, but you try to keep them smallish, so you have the chance to learn and course-correct.

One point that I thought was particularly insightful was the question of how to keep people motivated if they’re working on the core business, the bread and butter of the organization, the maybe-not-so-sexy but still-critical parts of the business. She talked about one company where the people who managed those areas didn’t see them as enmeshed in their particular industry, or product line. Instead, they saw themselves as experts on running mature businesses. As the innovations happening elsewhere in their organization grew into established enterprises, they’d need people whose niche was mature businesses, rather than new ideas.

The designers turn it over to the builders, and the builders turn it over to the operators. And there’s great respect for each type of skill set.

Many of us don’t work in organizations that are big enough to do this – there aren’t separate departments for innovation, strategy, or sometime even HR. But even when we do work in organizations that have that kind of size, typically there isn’t that kind of mindset, at least in my experience.

So these are good questions: how do you manage mature and growing businesses differently? How do you ensure you have the right skill sets to do this, without either overwhelming or boring your people? How do you make sure you are making room for new innovations? How do you make sure discomfiting information about your environment is really incorporated into your strategy? How do you sunset products or services which are dragging you down (even if they may be beloved by stakeholders, or seen as intrinsic to your brand)?

Rita’s book is in my bag for an upcoming trip, and I expect I may post again as I really get into her ideas.

In the meantime, if you’d like to discuss how we can help you with strategic resilience, environmental scanning, or third-party skepticism, please get in touch.

 

Photo by By Adam Jones Adam63 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons