If “Cloud” was the most overused word for 2015, then “Digital Disruption” would have to be my #1 pick for 2016. I’m struggling to think of a vendor event that I attended last year that didn’t reference at least Uber, AirBnB or Netflix in the opening slides; the message of course being … Disrupt (like these three companies) or Die.
The problem is that very few companies have either the culture or environment to enable innovation, let alone disruption. Against a backdrop of the all too popular catchphrase “Think outside the box”, we have built business models that punish people for daring to stray outside their box.
Not That Box Again!
The phrase “Think outside the box” is meant to be a metaphor for thinking from a new perspective, and is often visualised as a person standing outside a cube. For me however, I’ve always interpreted the box, not as a cube, but as the square in the 9-dot puzzle I saw many years ago.
If you’re not familiar with it, the goal of the puzzle is to link all 9 dots in the diagram below, using four straight lines or fewer, without lifting the pen and without tracing the same line more than once.
I won’t publish the answer here, in case you want to try and solve it yourself, but if you’re interested, here is where you can find the solution.
In this puzzle, the answer demonstrates the concept that some problems cannot be solved if you constrain yourself to conventional thinking, and work within “perceived” boundaries.
But I Love My Box
The problem of course is that Perception is Reality, and after a while, those boundaries becomes very real.
The very nature of Innovation is that it is new, and therefore unknown. So in order to innovate, we must be willing to take a risk. But risks don’t always succeed. So if our company culture demands that we have to achieve a quarterly number, then any risk that takes more than three months to produce a positive result will be perceived as a career-limiting move.
And yet we constantly point to innovative companies as examples of success without due regard to the setbacks they endured to achieve that success. Dyson, who effectively reinvented the concept of how a household fan and vacuum cleaner work, proudly boast on their website that it took 5 years and 5,127 prototypes to get the technology right. And you will find similar stories from all the innovative companies that have created genuine disruption… overnight success doesn’t happen overnight.
But What If I am Not An Inventor?
The small number of examples of disruptors that get quoted are admirable because they just that… a small number. If everyone thought that way, it wouldn’t be innovative. And it’s very unlikely that all but a very small handful of people reading this article have the ability to create anything as disruptive as the iPhone was to the camera industry.
But while we may not be able to completely disrupt, that doesn’t mean that we can’t Innovate. Which comes from the ability to focus on the outcome, not the process; on the problem, not the symptoms; and on creating a new result, not just improving the existing one.
Innovation is a skill. Like any skill, there are some of us that are born with it, and then there’s the rest of us who have to learn it. And as with learning any skill, it begins with some basic principles.
6 Ways To Cultivate Innovation
- Know A Little About A Lot
A friend of mine, who is a serial entrepreneur, said to me that he wants to be exposed to different ideas and technology changes, but he never wants to be an expert in any one of them. “If I invest too much time in becoming an expert in a technology, it’s very hard for me to look at a problem with fresh eyes. It’s that old quote… If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.
- Reduce Your Fear Of Failure
I hear the phrase “Embrace Failure” quite often, but it doesn’t resonate with me. Like most people, I hate failure. And I don’t believe we need to embrace failure, but rather to accept failure as a natural part of innovation. And most importantly, not punishing someone for consciously trying to do something genuinely different, that didn’t quite work out in the first attempt.
- Create a framework you are comfortable with, then let people experiment
One of the tenets of Facebook – Move Fast And Break Things – may be great advice for a start-up company, but probably won’t go down very well with a VAR who’s responsible for their customer’s networking environment. But maybe you can assign a low-impact project, or a geography, or a set amount of time (eg. 10% of the working week) where people can try things without having to commit to a specific result.
- Don’t see questions as a challenge to your authority
If your staff are too afraid to challenge the way things are done, because they believe you will become defensive, they won’t ever ask the questions necessary to change the status quo. Managers who are willing to admit when they don’t know something are more likely to foster loyalty and motivation than those who pretend to have the answers.
- Focus on intrinsic rewards, not just extrinsic ones
There is an abundance of research that shows that people are highly motivated by the sense of achievement that comes from solving a problem or overcoming a hurdle. In fact, in our article a couple of years ago, we suggested that in some instances, financial incentives may actually have a detrimental impact on creative thinking. To encourage a culture of innovation, we need to reward creative behaviour through public acknowledgment and recognition (in the same way that you recognise your sales achievements).
- Seek an external independent perspective
Sometimes having an external party challenge your thinking can trigger a new idea or a new approach. Even at Channel Dynamics (where our business is helping other companies innovate) we’ve learned the hard way that, when it comes to our own company, we can become too inwardly focused, and a third party can help us see things about ourselves that we would not have seen on our own. It’s the same for many organisations… you can uncover and solve problems for your customers, but you can’t see them in your own organisation.
Let Us Help You
Over the last 12 months, Channel Dynamics has worked on a number of projects that have provided our clients with a completely fresh insight into their business, and helped them transform their channel and sales strategy. Three notable examples are:
- A research study that provided the vendor with the insight they needed to build a marketing strategy, which resulted in a leadership position in a crowded market.
- Facilitated a strategic planning event, that challenged the way the vendor engaged with their channel, and helped them build stronger relationships with partner executives.
- Analysed one vendor’s MDF program and modified how they calculated rebates, which resulted in savings of over $200,000, with no negative impact on revenue.
Are these outcomes disruptive? … Not really.
Are they innovative? … Absolutely!
And when you start to get your people to think in new ways, no matter how small, you’ve taken the first step to getting out of that box, and possibly even becoming (dare I say it) a DISRUPTOR!