It’s Time For Innovation Or Stagnation

January 9, 2021By Views

By Dave Wendland, for Forbes Agency Council, as appeared on December 10, 2020

In October 2018, I wrote an article about the four components of effective collaboration: diversity, equality, energy and mobilization. With remote working now commonplace, I found myself challenged to imagine how the power of collaboration can facilitate effective revolutionary thinking from afar. True innovation often gets very messy, requiring input from a variety of people, across areas of expertise and industry viewpoints, generally through ad hoc interaction. One benefit realized as a result of the pandemic is the ability to virtually assemble diverse groups and discuss key topics such as fresh approaches to bringing about positive change.

This past September, I was privileged to virtually congregate a diverse group of executives from various sectors across the retail supply chain to discuss the topic of innovation and how organizations are thinking outside the box to foster creativity in light of working-from-home (WFH) limitations and market disruptions due to the current pandemic. Unlike traditional industry events, this executive roundtable format did not require travel, permitted individuals who otherwise may not have met to converse, and enabled a 60-minute discussion without interruption (other than the normal WFH exceptions) or a hard, fast agenda.

As I described at the onset of the session, our first in a series of roundtables, the development of new products or services requires input from many different vantage points, experiences and backgrounds. Included in this article are several key highlights gleaned from this impressive group of thought leaders.

The roundtable began with an invigorating discussion of what innovation means to each participant and their organization. There was agreement that definitions have been nebulous. We discussed the difference between iterative innovation, which involves testing, analyzing and refining a product or process, and true breakthrough creativity, which opens the company to new markets or changes the way customers interact with the market or the industry. Depending on the situation, either may be appropriate. The key is to continually innovate.

Allan Thygesen, president of the Americas at Google, has been credited with suggesting that: “In the last six months alone, we’ve probably experienced 10 years’ worth of change.” The a-ha moment about this statement, as determined by the group, was simply that stagnation is not a viable option in light of unprecedented industry dynamics and that a commitment to innovation is imperative.

From delays of product launches to business expansions put on hold, Covid-19 has caused many organizations to scrap plenty of their plans. In fact, we have noticed that many have shifted from planning for the future to putting out immediate fires — thus putting innovation at risk. Yet, I’m also seeing a number of companies muscling through these uncertain times and announcing major directional shifts, expanded business operations, or launching new products or services.

The roundtable participants agreed that these are among the critical questions that every organization should be asking while planning their strategy meetings for the coming year as they initiate steps to foster creative collaboration among staff, even if they aren’t in the same room:

  • Has your organization created a culture of innovation?
  • What breakthrough inspiration has affected your business? What is your organization doing to move to the next level?
  • Does a volatile time like we are currently in the midst of make it more or less difficult to be creative?
  • What are some of the difficulties you have encountered along the path to inspired creativity?
  • What are some of the ways you have overcome obstacles or bolstered inventive thinking?
  • What are you waiting for? In other words, rethink readiness.

So, how do you prepare your business for what’s next, and how do you balance risk-reward? It isn’t by demanding inventive thinking or sequestering teams of associates in a room, encouraging them to think up a bunch of crazy concepts. True innovation begins with a clear, stated purpose. And a common language must be established that not only defines what is meant by innovation but also what behaviors are expected. We believe this thoughtful and disciplined approach will accelerate the process and produce far better outcomes.