8 Keys to Keeping Up With Market Change in Your Business
Don't count on that big innovation that spawned your business to keep you competitive over time.
Every business owner and entrepreneur I meet in my consulting round dreams of finding that "disruptive" innovation that will supercharge their business and move it into the ranks of business unicorns (billion-dollar valuations), such as SpaceX and Apple. They don't realize that these are still rare, require a large risk, and may not be the best way to keep up with the change in the market.
As a potential investor, I always think of the high rate of failure of disruptive technologies, due to the long learning curve of customers, infrastructure change consistently required, and higher marketing costs. As an alternative, I usually recommend more incremental innovation, derived from recognized market changes, done on a regular basis, without the big-bang expectation.
In that context, I was pleased to see the supporting message in a recent book, Fearless Innovation: Going Beyond the Buzzword, by Alex Goryachev. Alex is a Silicon Valley veteran and Cisco executive, often referred to as the "innovation therapist," who details his knowledge of many real-world cases and specifics on how to keep up with change and win in the marketplace.
Here are his key recommendations, with my own insights added, on how you too can successfully keep up with change through regular and less risky incremental innovations, and stay ahead of your competitors in the business world today:
1. Embrace the fact that change waits for no one
As markets continue to change ever more rapidly through new technology and innovation, the global social, economic, and business environment will quickly evolve as well. If you don't keep it top of mind today, then you are going to be left behind. Instill a sense of urgency in your business team.
I can think of many companies that waited too long to react to change, including Polaroid and Blockbuster and were never able to recover. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security by an initial innovation that has served your company well so far.
2. Take responsibility for owning an informed strategy
Look at the big picture and then home in on the strategy that aligns best with your company and personal values and priorities. Before you act, shut up and listen to employees, customers, and futurists. Take accountability for execution by enabling success through resources, attention, and care.
3. Define realistic metrics to keep track of progress
If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. You need metrics to incentivize the right team behaviors. You as a leader must be transparent about how and why you are investing in one initiative over the other. Not every initiative will win, and you need to also know when to pack it in and move on.
4. Focus on pragmatic innovation rather than disruption
Technology is great, but high-tech major-step-forward solutions are not the answer to all our change challenges. The world moves primarily on small low-risk changes from market adjacencies that come from solving problems and executing measurable milestones with near-term growth potential.
5. Make innovation a team effort rather than a solo one
Get everyone involved, rather than count on a lonely inventor or even a specialized group. Your challenge will be to break down silos, manage diverse and inclusive perspectives, and capitalize on cross-functional insights. Be sure to hire and cultivate new talent with the right mindset.
6. Capitalize on free communal initiatives around you
Keep your eyes and mind open to free sources of innovation in every ecosystem, including open-source software, university cooperative programs, and the many incubators and accelerators supported by volunteers and communities. You can provide the discipline and the resources for results.
7. Establish a governance process to support efforts
Does your business have a chief innovation officer or equivalent function to coordinate activities, make sure resources are provided, and ensure execution and achievement of long-term goals? Innovation must be embedded in every function of your organization and measured at the highest levels.
8. Invest in communication skills and use all platforms
In addition to spreading the word internally, you need to create a dialogue externally with partners and customers. In return, active listening and two-way communication will maximize the value of your impact and results. Don't forget the new social media platforms and industry forums.
You may think that innovation and disruption are interchangeable, but they are different concepts and should not be confused. Every company needs a change strategy to address required problems or get new funding, but don't count on disruption to be that strategy. Instead, I suggest you focus your team on frequent and simple changes, rather than big dreams of saving the world.
This article originally appeared in INC on December 19, 2022