Remembering Clay Christensen, best-selling author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, when new technologies cause great firms to fail. Christensen demonstrates how successful, outstanding companies can do everything “right” and still lose their market share– or even fail – as new, unexpected competitors rise and take over the market. Surprisingly, in an interview, Christensen didn’t beat around the bush about the challenge’s leaders face when implementing innovation saying, “his sense is almost all of them will prove to be time wasting for the company and will fail.” Like Christensen, I’m passionate about creativity, imagination and pushing boundaries, but in my experience, I agree with Christensen there’s a lot more dilemmas to overcome when you embark on innovation or trying to disrupt a market.
As a leader your mind is full of ideas and new ways to improve things. You’re drawn to the shine and glamour of new ways. You’re an entrepreneur, intrapreneur, chief innovation officer or involved in R&D, strategic or transformational development. You’re always looking to the future, and the next big thing. You hate routine, day to day, admin and switch off when anyone mentions process, structure, governance or systems. So how do you recognise the challenges you face when implementing your new ideas, and find ways to overcome these?
People hate your idea or don’t get it.
You need to accept first and foremost there will be resistance. I’m often told people don’t like change. My belief it’s more about the unknown, it’s basic human nature the fear of the unknown. People wonder “what will happen to my role if this new idea happens.” You’re so excited about your new idea and get frustrated when people don’t get it. Why can they not see what you can see? It will benefit the organisation so much. Remember not everyone else thinks like you. It’s your job to explain and clearly paint the picture of what the new world will be like. You need to talk the language of others. Understanding as you are energised by taking risks and new ideas others thankfully are motivated by protecting the organisation being risk adverse.
Pushing water up a hill: You give up or burn out
Leadership is tough in any role, but implementing new ideas effectively is a serious challenge. Often, two things happen, either people give up and do as they’re told, or they burn out and leave, because the resistance is so strong. Those that burn out typically take the resistance personally, they have failed or everyone’s against them. On one occasion exhausted and nearly giving up, a mentor rang me and said “Cara you knew this wasn’t going to be easy when you started. You need to take a break and come back to it refreshed tomorrow.” Thankfully that advice paid off.
Be a black sheep not a purple cow
In his best seller, Seth Good urges people to put a Purple Cow into everything they build, to create something truly noticeable. A Purple Cow describes something phenomenal, counterintuitive and flat-out unbelievable. He says, you’re either a Purple Cow or not, which makes you remarkable or invisible. The author is right, but initially you need to dress the Purple Cow in black sheep’s clothing. The hardest part about innovation, is convincing other people. People believe in a black sheep, but not a purple cow. Once you have people’s buy-in you can take off the black sheep coat and release the purple cow.
Advice from former LEGO Executive David Gram – Build a Tribe
The role of the leader driving this new idea is not just to come up with the idea, but also to build a group of people who are passionate about it. Identify the key people you need on board, those who need to be part of what you’re doing and build strong relationships with them. The idea is just one small part of it, driving a cultural change within the organisation is critical. Inspire people with story’s and narrative using the emotional impact as that gets people committed stronger than the hard facts.
Get everyone on board before taking off
When leaders come up with a new idea, they are so passionate and can’t wait to get started. It’s like the feeling of going on a trip of a lifetime, with excitement, energy and can’t wait to get there. But pause for a second, this is the first time anyone has taken this journey, there will be bumps along the way and some wrong turns. As the leader takes off at 90 miles per hour, it’s crucial the whole team is on board, so everyone arrives at the destination together, and truly understands the part they plan. According to Kotter “over 80% of all innovations fail, and one reason is companies under communicate by a factor of 10”. An effective communication plan is crucial when implementing innovation. Not just a monthly update meeting, but regular meetings, informal conversations, workshops to get everyone’s ideas, opportunities to air concerns, training, one to one mentoring and targeting key influencers. Everyone needs to truly understand why, and the benefits of the innovation.
Are you solving a real problem?
This is the age-old question you’ll always be asked when starting a new business. When it comes, you hate it because you believe your idea will be the next big thing and don’t want anyone stopping you. But unfortunately, if no one is going to pay for it, you’ll waste a huge amount of time and money with no return.
Listen to your customers and the negative neds
I remember asking a successful Director, what he did when he had a new idea and most people keep telling him it wouldn’t work, but he didn’t want to be part of the 80 per cent failure? His response was, forget about what everyone else is saying, but really listen to what your customers tell you. I totally agree, but also disagree a little. As well as your customers I believe you need to talk to the negative neds. I’m not saying listen to what they have to say, but they will challenge you as to why your idea won’t work, and in turn this will challenge you to be confident to make it work.
Too many ideas worse than not enough?
I know you’re reading this, and already disagreeing. Or you may have even switched off and decided not to read this paragraph. I even found it painful to write. There’s never too may ideas in your head. But there can be too many ideas to implement in an organisation successfully. Being involved in strategic development and innovation throughout my career, the most successful projects we implemented were those we kept simple and focused on a few key things. This is not what the innovator wants to hear.
You gotta have faith, faith, faith…
As George Michael said “you gotta have faith, faith, faith.” In the song he writes, “it’s time to pick my heart up off the floor.” As an innovator leading the way, you will have many moments when your heart is on the floor, doubting voices in your head and even sleepless nights along the way. But remember this is when your WHY is so important. With great people you have inspired on the journey, their energy and support along with your passion will make your dream a reality.
Out on your own – a double edged sword
Deep down you knew you were always different. You’re not like others who work in the company. You love it when people recognise you for innovation, creativity, great imagination, a visionary or disruptor. It’s a double-edged sword, because you love being different, but it comes with a cost. Loneliness is one of the biggest challenges of every senior leader, but particularly those pushing boundaries. Others don’t understand what you’re going through and can’t see what you can. At times you feel you live in a different world getting tired and frustrated when things don’t change quickly enough.
The serious cost of being the first
During my MBA lecturer Charles Baden Fuller, often cited “it’s better to be second in the market rather than first.” Organisations who enter the market second, don’t have to incur all the huge R&D costs, and can learn from the mistakes the first company made. Innovators and entrepreneurs hate to be told this. Their energy and drive come from getting there first and being recognised for their disruption. When I first heard this in class, I could feel my inside tightening up. But I can see where professor Fuller is coming from. Organisations need to truly understand the full cost of innovation or implementing any change projects.
The shine has worn away and your off again …..
One of the biggest strengths of entrepreneurs and innovators is their insatiable thirst for new ideas and making things better. But it’s also their achilles heel. They get bored easily and take off onto the next idea or project without effectively delivering the first. They are often the best starters of a project, but the worst finishers. It’s crucial to build a strong team around you with different disciplines and core DNA to ensure you successfully see it through to completion. I know you won’t like this, but putting in plans, discipline or systems at the outset will really pay dividends and it will reduce the time you run around aimlessly.