One of the most exciting innovations of modern times, the first self-contained digital camera was introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1975. The same company was declared bankrupt in 2012. The company failed to compete in the digital photography world that they helped to come into existence.
What does that tell you?
Innovation is at times misdiagnosed by many companies. It’s not always about inventing new technology or product. Living in an age of revolutionary breakthroughs happening every other day, developing an infrastructure for innovation seems feasible than adopting an innovative culture. Yes, I agree it’s super hard to come out of “ A culture of innovation” and, this article is in no way a discouragement to innovate. It’s just a reminder that being innovative is not your only option & how sometimes blindly following a culture of innovation can actually damage your brand. Something that not many are willing to talk about.
Why we romanticize innovation.
Our age-old practices tell us to look down upon gradual progression to success. Maintaining your position or just mere existence is not worthy of an applaud. Over glorifying innovation is a crime we all have committed. Why?
Innovations generally help us make our lives easier. From robotic-vacuum cleaners to smartphones, to self-driving cars- the innovations in all industries emerge from our prioritizations.
In a capitalistic society, innovation can breed many billionaires. And since we almost always tend to equate money to value, we foster the idea that innovators are more valuable in the world we live in.
Why it’s time to unjoin the wagon.
We’ve trained ourselves and our children to believe that their best in career or life is to invent something new, to start a new business or to have an idea. Entrepreneurs & idea generators, with little to none of the experience, sometimes spend their entire lives trying to come up with that ‘billion-dollar idea’, only fail in the process.
Change has never been optional. Even if you’re not innovating, your competitors certainly will be. Moreover, innovations that were celebrated & even started a new wave of change in the market, were cashed in by their competitors rather than the inventors.
In the 50s & 60s, Xerox ruled the domains of paper document copying & transmission. It was the Xerox PARC researchers that invented nearly everything in the digital revolution. From Ethernet networking, the graphical user interface on windows, icons, pointer, & mouse to laser printing, the core technologies of personal computers were PARC’s contributions. And yet, they were not the first great personal computer brand, or GUI brand, or even laser printing company.
Xerox invented, & others, such as Apple, IBM, Microsoft & adobe, capitalized these innovations. The market for photocopiers still exists. Xerox still exists. But they failed in every meaningful way to take advantage of their immensely disruptive inventions that went on and initiated the very digital revolution.
Sometimes when you innovate, it starts a new line of business. Sometimes it makes another line of business obsolete or puts you out of business and let your agile competitors reap the benefits, like Xerox. They invented the future, and yet somehow made themselves obsolete to it.
The question is whether you will drive that interruption or react to it. Both have it’s benefits, challenges and limitations. There is also a third option and that is to be overwhelmed by these interruptive inventions because you do not have a strategy.
Reinventing the wheel is not always the way.
Back in 1993, when the world wide web was something that was limited to a small academic community, the online world was dominated by AOL, Prodigy, and Compuserve. An open-source web browser, that lets you view text & graphics together in hyperlinked documents, called Mosaic is released. As the popularity of hypertext grew, Netscape Communications came forward with Navigator, the first commercial web browser.
It was in 1995, that Microsoft ships its first browser, Internet Explorer version 1, along with the Windows ‘95 OS. IE1 doesn’t take off as Netscape successfully keeps its dominance over the small but rapidly growing online world. Microsoft then imitates most of the features of Netscape for IE2 & IE3, and with heavy promotions by bundling with its OS products. The market share rises and eventually, Microsoft started dominating the online world while Netscape fades.
World wide web was not invented by Microsoft. The first popular web browser wasn’t theirs. But with clever bundling tactics, Microsoft managed to win the ‘browser wars’. Of course, down the road, Google chrome displaced IE. The point is that Microsoft wasn’t the innovator or even the second one to join the line. And yet, Microsoft’s visionary leadership had the resources to act aggressively, real quick.
The glory in using proven frameworks
Innovation, at times, is described as something that we should desire for its own sake. The reality stays somewhere far. In any mature organization, innovation has a significant cost, not just monetary. At the end of the day, every groundbreaking innovation you will be throwing away established processes & channels, existing products or product lines, capital equipment, time, and money that all could be used something else.
There are only two good reasons to innovate: because you really really have to, or because the potential success outweighs the cost of failure drastically and that failure will be manageable. Or both.
Execution is the key
What makes innovation more than a buzzword is how you’ve executed it, how you rode the wave of change. And sometimes, the right execution strategy can even make up for an average idea. It is the ‘iterative execution’ rather than the constant reinventions with exciting moonshots & 10X leaps that the successful companies pledge by.
SurveySparrow is a conversational experience survey platform. We entered the marketplace in 2017 when the existing players were still using their decade-long technology. We introduced the world’s first chat survey that closely resembled a Whatsapp chat that promises 40% better response rates. In a two-year span, we managed to spread our roots into 109 countries, boasting 20,000 plus customer base.
But how? We did not invent the chat format or surveys. We took both and executed something that delivered the best of both worlds. Apple is another perfect example of a company that sticks to execution over ideas. This is not an easy strategy to adopt and you need immense confidence as well as a lot of patience. You wait and observe what your competitors are doing and only after that, you make your move.