How to Simplify Innovation

July 27, 2020
Why it's time to rethink what we consider innovative ideas.

As a leader, there are a few phrases that, no matter the context, really grind my gears. I’m sure you have some, too. “I forgot”, “That’s not my job” and, “I’ll do it tomorrow” might be at the top of your list. One of the worst offenders to me? “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

It’s usually met with a blank stare and a very simple question: “So?”

Over the past few months, we’ve talked a lot about evolving. For many of us, this year has forced us to evolve in a number of different ways. Simply doing things the way we’ve always done it is surely the quickest way to remain static and, eventually, stale. 

That’s made all too evident in this month’s feature, “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” Associate Editor Kelly Beaton took a look at some of the titans of the past—Blockbuster, taxis, Microsoft—and why their failures to innovate created gaps that allowed disruptors to take over. 

The concept, “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, comes from a book (of the same title) by a Harvard Business School professor who posited that great companies can fail simply because they do everything right. Why? Because by meeting customers’ current needs, large companies reject breakthrough thinking, innovations and technologies that create the products and opportunities of the future. In other words, they don’t consider the customers’ future needs.

The trick is that sometimes it does feel like the way we’ve always done things is sufficient. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right?

It’s hard to recognize innovation—and the need for it—when it’s happening. Really, how is anyone supposed to know what will be a passing fad or a truly revolutionary concept that will disrupt the industry?

What struck me most while reading this month’s feature was just how much we overthink innovation. It doesn’t have to be a scary disruptor coming from a Silicon Valley startup staffed by millennials. What innovation boils down to is the following: finding a solution to a need. That could be as simple as a new process for texting customers or maximizing an additional profit center. 

It’s what you’ve done for years, and will continue to do. The disruptors might be different and the technology may change, but the strategies and keys to implementation remain remarkably the same moving forward.

Anna Zeck
Editorial Director