There’s something to be said for stability, but also innovation.
If you’ve ever seen a plant grow, you know that new shoots are flexible and willing to go nearly anywhere and try nearly anything to get at the resources they need. But, over time, shoots become rooted to the ground, their bodies thicken, and they settle into stability. In some cases, they even stop growing. This stability can be a good thing, but it also make trees vulnerable to anybody with a chainsaw. Businesses are a lot like plants, in this respect, and balancing the desire to stay innovative and flexible with embracing stability can be tricky. How can companies do both?
Stable, But Dynamic
Companies embrace stability because the truth is, there’s little enough of it in any business environment. If a product is selling well, profits are high, and clients are knocking at your door, there’s an overriding sense that you don’t upset the apple cart. The problem, however, is stability can be transitory. Nobody thought Anheuser-Busch, one of the biggest brewers in the world and a family business for more than a century, could ever be bought out. They didn’t expect the rapidly shifting tastes in beer and even faster changes in international finance, where borrowing the enormous sums needed, would be possible. Now it’s just one beer in a “brand portfolio.”
Humans have a bias toward the status quo. We believe that when we arrive in a situation, that situation is stable and unchanging. Unfortunately, we’ve seen again and again that it’s not. The good news, though, is that stability is an excellent platform from which to launch innovation.
Stability can become stagnation without innovation.
Stability Supports Innovation
If you look closely at companies that are truly successful in the long term, they use their stability to build further innovation. Anheuser-Busch did precisely this, at one point: The company was a pioneer in what we call “vertical integration,” diversifying its business into everything related to brewing from glass-making to brewing equipment, and it did this by using its beer’s success as a platform to provide funding and a fall-back. If a seemingly good idea didn’t pan out, the company wasn’t ruined. That it could be so innovative at one point and swept up by innovation the next is a valuable reminder that humility is part of good business sense.
The trick with innovation in a stable company is to be like a branch growing out of a trunk. The branch uses the trunk for support but can grow in any number of directions. If a branch fails, it doesn’t hurt the trunk; it just falls off and fertilizes the ground below the tree, feeding energy to new branches.
Innovation strategy should be built on opportunities, ideas, and challenges that make sense for your industry to deal with, while not ignoring the company’s core business. Sometimes this will seem like a small progressive, such as incremental innovation. Other times it will be seemingly wild ideas. With a good innovation strategy, there’s room for both in a stable company. To learn more about innovation strategy and balancing stability and change, join our newsletter.