Where Does Innovation Fit?
Stop for a second and think about innovation at your company. Look around you. Where is your focus? What’s your top-of-mind? Is your focus on developing the next set of products which will blow away not only your competitors current and future products, but will also leapfrog your own? If not, my guess is that innovation is playing second fiddle at your company.
To all of those detractors who feel that innovation is not that important, that R&D and new product development are just “nice to haves” that are awesome in good times but just a real drag in lean, I just have to say: you are wrong. If you are doing it right, innovation is the reason why your employees love doing what they do, and they stay with you instead of taking their ideas to their own startup or somewhere else. It’s the reason why your customers love you and can’t wait for the next thing you ship. It’s the thing that, despite what the detractors say about a company like Apple (myself included) keeps people buying, talking, blogging and gushing profusely about their products.
When innovation becomes second fiddle, and you cut people and whole departments who are focused in these areas, you cut off the life support to your companies future. Do you really think that your customers, fan, and followers will be happy with minor incremental improvements and innovations, while your competitors take great strides forward, slowly eating away at your current customer base?
There are plenty of examples of this: look at Gmail vs Yahoo! Mail. For the longest time, Yahoo! Mail was the undisputed king of webmail (along with Hotmail of course). Not only did they have that, they pretty much owned what was called at the time “the home page of the internet” – Yahoo! was most people’s first window onto the internet. In addition, they had the users, tons of data on 300 million plus users. But then Google came along and, without any of those, slowly but surely took them all away, simply by innovating when Yahoo! didn’t.
Their strategy for capturing users started with Gmail: provide a faster, more useful, better experience, without giant ads to slow you down. And how did Yahoo! respond? Did they improve their experience in order to keep their customers? Did they anticipate that Google was going to do what they did by continuously improving and innovating the email experience? If they’d continuously innovated email in the first place, then maybe most of the internet wouldn’t have jumped ship to Gmail. And now that Gmail is probably as slow as Yahoo! Mail, do you think anyone it going back? A yahoo.com address is nearly as bad as an aol.com address. Why? Innovation played second fiddle.
I’ve said before: innovation is your future. It’s your corporate strategy. It’s what should be keeping your C-suite up at night. It’s not just a nice to have – it’s your future state. Those companies without continuous innovation as the top of mind will continue to survive. Those that don’t, won’t.