Some companies are born innovative, some achieve innovation and others have innovation thrust upon them.
To be innovative at birth is a fine start for a company and to carry on innovating throughout its existence will make for a longer, richer life. To achieve innovation is a conscious process of directed change – of strategies, structures, systems, mindsets and cultures – and that too is very valuable.
To innovate when forced to, to change only when there is no other alternative is a less attractive option.
In a competitive environment, being forced into innovation has many drawbacks. A company doing new things as a reactive response to external threats only, will be deprived of the benefits of a first mover, or even of a fast second. An aversion to change and new ideas, such as arises from sluggishness or excessive comfort, will make implementing new things all the more difficult when the time for change inevitably comes. The company which has change thrust upon it will lose market share and profits to more creative and faster competitors, even as it strives to transform itself. Change, when it does happen, will be slower and more laborious.
Innovation by choice is far better strategy. It requires looking at the future, setting change objectives, and establishing an innovation culture to help innovation happen over time. It means consciously balancing innovation with operational efficiency. It involves risks taken with open eyes. In the process the company becomes a learning organization and accustoms itself to change.
IBM is a case in point. There is no question that it was born innovative and it thrived in the world of mainframes for quite a few decades. In the 1980s however, innovation was thrust upon IBM by Apple and the advent of personal computing. IBM managed to dominate the business uses of personal computing only with the help of Microsoft which reaped the bulk of the benefits. For a while IBM was wobbling. In the 1990s it strategically chose to redefine its entire business model. It focused on service and integrating systems and later sold its PC business to LeNovo. Today hardware accounts for about 15% of IBM’s revenue.
Like IBM, many organizations are embracing innovation as a key element of strategy and as a core value. For others it is an empty buzzword, which is why they should start worrying. There are many good reasons not to innovate, some linked to an excessive focus on efficiency and immediate profits, others to various forms of aversion to change.
Quite clearly though, for a company to actively seek and achieve innovation is far better than changing because it has been forced to do so.
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them” William Shakespeare (Twelfth Night).
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