Innovate or Die!
“Innovation is not a rare quality inherent in a lucky few — it’s a way of thinking and behaving that comes naturally.” That’s according to Lisa Buckley, director at New York’s What If Innovation Partners.
I’m a very big believer in everyone’s ability to innovate. The capacity to innovate does not belong to any particular group or require a particular degree, education or income level.
That’s why I am constantly dumbfounded when I see once-great businesses go by the wayside.
Earlier this month I was reading about the decline of RadioShack, a onetime Goliath in the retail world. I remember visiting RadioShack as a kid to pick up some batteries and spending hours checking out the remote-control cars, radio kits and eventually my first cellphone. For a tech geek like me, the Shack was where it was at!
It’s been about a year since the demise of Radio Shack. For decades Radio Shack owned the electronics and technology business yet it’s precisely advances in technology that made it irrelevant.
As Penn State professor Jack V. Matson wrote in his book Innovate or Die!, “Innovation literally means to make something new, different, or unique.” He emphasized this point when I had the chance to take a class with him.
Yes, certainly innovation can bring success to entrepreneurs but at times they become so caught up in the business of running the business that they stop innovating and the organization eventually dies.
Entrepreneurs often refer to the small, swift and resourceful David beating the large and well-funded multinational Goliath Corp. But they ought to consider the pterodactyl vs. the drone.
While Allen was studying at New York City’s Parsons the New School of Design, she made note of old-school thinking in the apparel industry. Even before she graduated in 2004 with the prestigious Designer of the Year Award, she was plotting to use technology to innovate in her industry.
“We are applying our design and creativity to the supply chain — not just the product,” said Allen, who is using robots to manufacture clothing, thus addressing the waste and human-rights concerns raised by critics of the apparel industry.
When I asked Allen about the advantage that startups have over established firms in delivering products that reduce these concerns, she replied, “It is very difficult for a publicly traded company with rigorous demands in the marketplace, on a quarterly basis, to all of a sudden within a period of a year, transform these issues.”
Today’s entrepreneurs must not only innovate to make their mark: They must also find ways to remain innovative to prevent their companies’ extinction. The following three tips can help entrepreneurs maintain a culture of innovation to keep their business relevant:
1. Treat the business as one big beta test.
Entrepreneurs who thrive over the long run know that the only constant in business is change. Rather than adjust to the shifting environment, RadioShack remained fixed in its ways and began the downward spiral that led to its bankruptcy.
The innovative entrepreneur knows that no product or service is ever final. Nothing is ever good enough. Everything is subject to change.
2. Keep your ears to the ground.
Successful entrepreneurs constantly listen to what’s being said about their industry, company and products and services. Remaining competitive and relevant means delivering the products and services that buyers want.
Actively gathering feedback from customers through surveys, social media and other means lets entrepreneurs begin developing the products and services that the market is or will be seeking. Sitting around and being satisfied with success can lead to disaster.
3. Encourage failure.
Entrepreneurs and their employees must constantly experiment. Professor Matson’s equation for innovation is “Creative Ideas + Experimentation = Innovation.” An innovative organization might even have a record of consistent failure.
If a company is to remain relevant, it must change with expectations. This means trying, failing and trying again with the aim to ultimately succeed.