The scale of innovation has thrust us into an era when ‘change or die’ is more than a platitude. Transformation is a constant imperative not just for Future Proofing®, but for day-to-day sustainability.
We talk a lot about innovation. A lot of people talk a lot about innovation. As we should. It’s the act of creating something new. It’s the disruption of something known to make it bigger, better, or more accessible. It’s establishing connections between things that were once disparate. But it’s also the new thing itself that illuminates possibility, solves problems, and creates markets – and market leaders.
Innovation exists in the DNA of organizations actually succeeding in the effort to be Future Proof®. That’s because for these organizations, innovation is neither just an act nor a product. Innovation is a mindset and a filter through which every department and individual thinks about challenge and opportunity. It influences decisions and propels the continuing transformation and agility that companies need for resilience in an aggressively changing and increasingly complex environment.
The organizations that do this successfully stand out. They are structured to encourage and empower their people to gather and process information, to connect dots between diverse concepts, and to be a voice of leadership regardless of department or title. Unhindered by matrices of processes and reporting, their people generate a constant flow of knowledge, questions, and ideas throughout the organization.
In that way, innovation is a mindset and the lifeblood of a healthy organization – it is an ongoing reinvigoration of the enterprise and those who comprise it. A corporate culture driven by a regular sense of curiosity and desire to think creatively beyond their immediate task list has a unique life force.
This all may sound like a bit of a poeticized image of Knowledge Age organizations, but solid examples of creative disruption exist. Valve Software threw open their creative gates and has produced award-winning games, leading-edge technologies, and a groundbreaking social entertainment platform. Uber disrupted the taxi industry by engaging the shared economy, and Lyft has been a disruptive force on Uber. Zappos changed how we shop online by focusing not on product but on empowering its people to be customer service advocates first and foremost.
Airbnb may be the most powerful example of all – they completely reshaped how buyers and sellers engage in a dispersed global scale sharing economy. For their model to work, the company needed to reimagine the organizational structure. They reinvigorated the concept of an org chart to erase walls. They adopted lean methodologies. They continue to enable a continual flow of ideas and knowledge sharing by focusing on nurturing a strong culture and providing directives from the bottom/side/top. Managers are ‘empowerers,’ not dictators or permission givers. There’s pride in spotting and solving problems using a mix of data and creativity.
By reinvigorating the organization to prioritize innovation and agility, companies are embracing the challenge of remaining aware of how and when change is necessary. That requires knowledge – the constant study of the market, competitive landscape, and demographics. Vigilance about the external factors impacting the organization positions you to understand current realities and consider alternate futures.
Yet this flow of intelligence is not enough to make an organization truly innovative. That step happens when the team is brave enough to turn inward. One of the hardest things for an organization to do is to remain objective about themselves. Taking the time to dig into the groundswells of what drives the business and honestly considering what the organization needs to do to reach its goals is the pivot point.
Change is a constant cycle, and the cycle time is condensing and accelerating. Agility must be the goal of reinvigoration. The process begins with dissecting your framework for innovation and taking an honest look at whether your systems and structures are helping – or hindering – your potential to create and change the world.
It’s time to breathe new life into your innovation machine.
Nina Martire is a Senior Associate who advises on strategy development, business planning and change management. She is focused particularly on the nexus of transformational change and strategic foresight, guiding leaders in commercial and government sectors to a better understanding of and an ability to plan for the future of their organizations. Nina holds an MBA from the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and has a deep background in corporate and commercial finance.
Toffler Associates is a future-focused strategic advisory firm. Our Future Proof® business consulting approach helps global leaders understand how future shifts impact current decisions so they can take advantage of opportunity, manage risk, and create future value.
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