The problem with embarking on an innovation project is that you can’t know where it’s going to end up (if you did, it wouldn’t really be innovation, now would it?). Many people (and organizations) have a strong need to be in control of as much of their world as possible. Getting excited about a breakthrough idea that can lead to a very new and different place? Not likely. The further the idea is from “business as usual” the less control they will have. After all, radical ideas might attract new customers, require new forms of distribution, and put the company in a market with currently unknown competitors. Without control, any one of these issues could surely lead to failure… And who wants to sign up for that?
Fear of the unknown is a natural trait. But it is often misplaced. Good innovation stems from seeing an opportunity in the marketplace, or in meeting a need held by a group of consumers. If a concept passes these litmus tests, how unknown is it really? Of course there’s still risk. But the real question is, “What is the risk of doing nothing?”. In this day and age, there are few if any markets that stand still over time. Increasing competition, savvy consumers and disruptive technologies have rocked many an industry. Relying on past success for future success has become an oxymoron.
Sit through any innovation project with most companies and notice what transpires. Ideas may surface that range from mild to wild… But which ones almost always are chosen to move forward? The ones which cause the least amount of stress to the company. The potentially market-changing ideas are often relegated to a three-ring binder until such time that a competitor enters the market in a bold way, then the binder will be dusted off to see if there are any ideas in-house that could compete.
Max DePree, former CEO of Steelcase once said “We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are”. In this one simple quote, he says a lot. He recognizes that there is a tremendous desire within any organization to “remain what we are”. But the reality is, that should be where the fear enters in. Companies realistically have to focus on one part of this or the other, they can’t do both. So what is it with your company? Is your attention on determining what you need to be? Or are your resources dedicated to remaining what you are? Yes, change is scary. But in this day and age, not changing is horrifying.