- Despite seeming to appear out of nowhere, most great innovations are the culmination of years or even decades of work from multiple entities.
- Innovation strategy should be built around the idea of industry-changing innovation taking years broken into smaller, more manageable goals.
- A well-designed innovation platform can help you maintain the momentum and energy needed for an innovation marathon.
Disruptive innovation is seemingly everywhere—a bolt of lightning that arrives and reorders entire industries around it. But what can seem like a sudden burst of energy is in fact the end of a long race towards a goal, often with unintended effects along the way. Here’s how to better understand the innovation marathon, avoid the sprint mentality, and plan for your innovation goals.
The Illusion of The Innovative Sprint
Many great innovations seem to arrive out of nowhere. Particularly over the last 20 years, which have seen the rise of the modern internet, smartphones, social media, and big data, the pace and suddenness of innovation can seem breathtaking.
None of these innovations would have been possible without decades of research on multiple fronts. The touch screen infotainment systems in modern vehicles are a good example. They date back to the early 1980s with Buick’s Electronic Control Center or ECC, which was standard on the Buick Riviera and Buick Reatta. It performed climate control and entertainment tasks.
This didn’t spell the end of mechanical systems because the ECC was an all-or-nothing proposition. If the system failed, it took your radio and air-conditioning controls with it and required time to repair. Buick sprinted to touchscreens but lost the marathon of making them effective and reliable.
That’s why innovation is a marathon. Anybody can have an idea, but making it reliable, accessible, and useful is where the real innovation lies.
How To Plan an Innovation Marathon
Using the marathon example, any innovation strategy needs to have an overarching goal and a series of milestones along the way.
First, pick a time span. Keep in mind that the further in time your goals are placed, the more likely the situation is to change around you. That will have to be factored in, and requires a little humility. Consider the changes in technology, social attitudes, and economics over the last ten years. Would you have guessed any of them would be happening? Would you have assumed their impacts to be what they are?
The most common span for most industries to consider possible events is five years—it allows them to stretch their thinking, but the timeline isn’t so far out that changes won’t undercut the work they’re doing.
Next, take an inventory of your company and industry. Start with a few questions:
- What’s the current state of the art in your industry? How close are you to it in your company?
- What technologies are still being incorporated into industry best practices? What possible effects might they have with your company and more broadly?
- What are the current needs of your clients? How do you see them changing?
- Is the current state of the art enough to meet those needs? Do you foresee more work being necessary?
From there, your goals as an organization over the long term should come into focus. Be ambitious but keep them achievable. Consider how these goals will be measured. Clear and specific goals are easier to reach. “Become a fully digital organization” is a bit vague. “Update and modernize our IT infrastructure” is clearer.
From there, break what you need to achieve each goal down into more manageable tasks at a specific pace:
- What needs to be bought, upgraded, or replaced?
- What roles need to be filled, and with what skill sets?
- What training is needed?
- What challenges will need to be worked with as you progress?
- What benefits will arise from these short-term goals?
- How will you measure success and improvement?
Finally, consider how you might handle positive and negative disruptions. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that you can’t predict everything, and plans need to be flexible to deal with challenges as they arise. This doesn’t need to be a firm plan, but rather an understanding of what should be done when a new challenge or opportunity arises.
Say a disruptive new technology arrives—something on the level of an iPhone or the internet. Have a framework to evaluate it. Look at your long-term goals and see where it has the most impact. It may require you to shift your goals to be more ambitious or take some steps out of the roadmap.
Running The Innovation Marathon
Once you have a roadmap, it’s time to start running. The focus should be on continuing to take steps and maintaining momentum.
Ideally, you’re able to break things down into small enough steps. For example, when updating and modernizing IT, you should start with steps such as upgrading company wifi or replacing your laptop fleet before moving into more complex tasks like server upgrades or back-end expansion.
Worry less about rigid schedules and focus on each step being completed up to the standards needed. As each step will have benefits in the first place, finishing them properly will yield better results in the short and long term.
Regularly update your team on what’s happening and what the results of their work has been. Transparency helps with future steps by spreading what you’ve learned and helps establish morale, especially during the tougher tasks.
Finally, be ready for potential stumbles. Even a smooth organization will face unexpected challenges and needs that can shift focus to other topics. If you need to pause to deal with these, do so with a plan to get back on track soon.
Just like a real marathon, an innovation strategy is planned before you get to the starting line. An innovation platform can help you lay out your plan and be ready when the starting gun goes off. To learn more, request a demo!