Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Innovation used to be very important. Now, in a world still dealing with the aftermath of a pandemic, it’s critically necessary. Every industry, big or small, has been affected by Covid-19 and was forced to take immediate action to change the “normal way” of doing things. In a nutshell, we were all compelled to step out of our comfort zones and think of different ways to achieve survival, or better yet, winning results.
Innovation is the driving force behind development and growth across businesses. I’ve seen firsthand how some of my colleagues not only adopted this new reality, but also worked it to their advantage.
Industry research shows that 75% of companies claim to make innovation one of their top three priorities, in line with the increasing demand from consumers to give them new options to face the current state of our world.
Now, that doesn’t mean that all companies are innovators. Some embrace innovation (rather well, I might add) but are not necessarily on the front lines of cutting-edge technologies, products or services. And that’s okay; we also need those types of companies to benchmark how diverse success factors can be applied across different industries.
Related: Innovate or Die
Fear prevents companies from moving forward
Innovation doesn’t come easy though. It is a complex process with many different stages and inherent risks that you must understand, evaluate and manage. It’s got a hefty price in terms of resources, time, capital and human involvement. Add to the mix that we are all dealing with some of the most uncertain, complex times this generation has had to face, and it can be even more complicated.
Naturally, businesses are not entirely sure about the value of some types of innovation. In our case, even though our solutions have yielded significant improvements in the way our clients operate, perform and achieve, we still face a degree of resistance that can be challenging to overthrow.
What’s behind this resistance? I’ve come to realize that the fear of failure is one of the biggest blockers that prevents prospects from taking the leap and adopting a new way of doing things. Almost everyone shies away from being blamed in case things go awry.
In companies where the culture of innovation is not highly valued, employees usually hold no power to lead initiatives or bring new ideas to the table, regardless of whether those ideas are likely to lead to failure or success. Without support for innovation and properly outlined resources dedicated to these efforts, there’s an inevitable shortage of ideas from employees.
Leadership teams must play an active role in innovation
Some business models and organizational structures can become barriers to innovation unless leadership teams take effective measures to remediate how new ideas, technologies and resources are embraced and adopted.
Generally, it’s the fear of making a different choice that holds innovative processes back. When looking at the list of the most innovative companies in the world and how they outperformed others during the Covid-19 crisis, they have several aspects in common: commitment, readiness and, most of all, a fearlessness when it came to taking the leap and doing something outside of the box.
But don’t take my word for it. Look at what Pfizer did right when the pandemic was declared. Instead of trying to conquer a moving, uncertain landscape on its own, the company partnered with BioNTech, not only to reduce the time to create a vaccine from years to one year, but also to ramp up production and have sufficient distribution prowess to deliver much-needed vaccines to the world.
And what about big-name retailers like Amazon, Target and Walmart? They all benefited from heavy investment in their online ecommerce platforms, taking home deliveries to new heights and making them a prized offering in times where going out freely was not safe. Other companies like the industrial GE and Siemens took advantage of AI to find new uses for their data, achieving operational efficiencies.
Remote work also prompted leaders to think of innovative ways to support effective communication and collaboration. The year 2020 brought many challenges, but it also brought many innovations that will continue to shape our world for years to come.
Who should be responsible for driving innovation in a company?
But one question continues to linger: Who should be responsible for driving innovation in a company? The employees? The performance manager? The leadership team? Executives? The organizational culture team?
From where I’m standing, leadership matters greatly and should be the focal point when talking about innovation, but realistically, innovation is a holistic result of everyone’s inputs and ideas that, when fully built and realized, can yield greater results than if only one person were driving the innovation efforts.
I think about my company and the many struggles we had to battle during 2020. I also think about that exact feeling of fearlessness I spoke about earlier, which I saw exemplified in each one of my colleagues who were eager to grab the bull by the horns and deal with whatever cards we were dealt. They inspired me not to fear failure, and I wanted that feeling to trickle down to the entire team: our collaborators, clients and investors … For companies and leaders who can’t shake off the feeling of fear, here’s what I suggest:
- There is no time for fear when you are a leader and have a real goal or dream. Just act.
- Innovate and change yourself and the environment around you; otherwise, be ready to lose. Innovators are winning the race. And yes, they also make mistakes; they also fail, fail fast, stay resilient to move on and keep fighting till the end.
- Be realistic; don’t be blinded by your dream. Regularly verify hypotheses, results, the market and industry you strive to conquer.
Related: The Power of Innovation