Fear of innovation is holding some businesses back.
‘Innovate or die’ has become the watchword for businesses. Stories about companies that have failed due to an inability to innovate litter the internet and highlight the danger of complacency.
Yet while keeping abreast of market trends and experimenting with disruptive new technologies is important, coming from a mindset of fear risks inhibiting true creativity.
Recent research from Studio Graphene revealed that 45% of senior decision-makers in the UK believe their organisation is too risk-averse to embrace innovative technologies – a figure that jumps to 70% among those in large businesses.
We must move away from platitudes such as ‘innovate or die’ which foster an attitude that will prevent rather than encourage progressive thinking. So how can entrepreneurs overcome this mindset and pursue innovation?
Why does everyone talk about innovation?
The digital landscape has changed massively in the last two decades; the introduction of high-speed internet connections, smartphones and social media platforms has changed the way businesses interact with their consumers.
Some companies have survived this change by adopting a digital-first mindset. Others, meanwhile, fell behind as their competitors innovated.
Dell offers a good example of a business that got caught up in past successes and failed to adapt to changing market conditions. The company failed to grasp the growing importance of mobile phones and cloud-based offerings, instead remaining entirely focused on their core PC market.
Yet the amount of hardware companies and consumers required quickly dropped as the dominant computing platforms shifted away from desktops instead to smartphones and tablets. It didn’t matter that they remained the world’s best PC maker when the demand for PCs was no longer there.
The failed NHS track and trace app offers another timely example. Rather than seeking help from small and agile domain experts that could steer the development of the app in the right direction, the team behind the much-awaited app limited work to existing suppliers.
Poor execution resulted in a technical flop; not to mention wasted time, effort and resource at a time when exploring new solutions and building quickly was of paramount importance.
Digital transformation success stories
Global lockdowns have no doubt permanently redrawn the retail landscape, with consumers relying more heavily than ever on home delivery services.
Over the years, Ocado has made a name for itself in the food retail space and has worked tirelessly to fulfil grocery delivery needs during the pandemic.
But its strong performance today is largely down to its culture of innovation; Ocado has evolved from just an online grocery delivery service to a tech company that builds everything from consumer-facing websites to robot-operated depots for other food retailers.
Ocado also did not shy away from enlisting the help of third-party experts; a lesson in innovation that every company can learn from.
The company’s next-generation warehouse was created with the help of product design and development firm Cambridge Consultants, with whom they worked to create a complex system of controlling and co-ordinating the movements of hundreds of thousands of grocery-laden crates.
Yet even behind such seemingly effortless successes often lies a history of failures. Take Amazon, for instance, which has evolved from bookstore to superstore and offers a lesson in the importance of utilising innovative technologies.
It grasped the opportunity to capture its share of the cloud computing market dominated by giants like Microsoft and Google when it introduced Amazon’s Web Services.
In addition to selling everything from gadgets to furniture, it now provides on-demand cloud computing platforms and APIs to individuals, companies and governments. With virtual assistants on the rise, Amazon is also the creator of one of the world’s most popular digital assistants – Alexa.
But even Amazon’s journey is littered with failures. Amazon Auctions, for instance, was made available as an alternative to listing items on eBay – a function that has since been removed, doubtless due to its limited popularity amongst users.
The lesson to takeaway is this: trying and failing is better than not trying at all. It allows companies to test the appetite for new products or services, and to identify what works – or doesn’t.
Why you should embrace failure
A willingness to embrace failure will not come naturally to everyone; indeed, people are likely to shy away from taking a leap of faith in place of sticking with a strategy that has worked well in the past.
In all likelihood corporates are not going to stop existing if they do not innovate. However, they will definitely not reach their full potential, and, over time, they risk losing their market share.
Corporates tend to fall into some common traps that prevent them from successfully implementing new technologies. Physical traps include the over-reliance on legacy systems and equipment instead of pursuing fresher and more relevant technologies.
The psychological trap of fixating on what made a company successful, rather that attempting to revamp their offering, is another barrier.
But let us not forget that there are many emotional elements at play behind people not innovating; it is more than just a business mindset – it is a personal one too. For instance, if you’re a CIO, CTO, COO or even CEO at a big firm, you might be more concerned with not rocking the boat and doing a solid job.
Most people are happier to stick to the status quo than to really push for something new. It’s almost the human herd mentality, so good business leaders must go further to really encourage people to go against the flow.
Changing the risk-averse culture of a company requires putting in place structures to fast-track exciting ideas and encouraging employees to think outside the box.
Whether that is by creating a department that is dedicated entirely to testing new ideas, or by inspiring employees to spend some time brainstorming solutions to improve the customer experience, business leaders should be confident that no suggestions fall on deaf ears – and that failures are celebrated just like successes.
We often discuss business innovation on a company-wide level; if a company fails to innovate, we put that down to a company culture that failed at spotting new opportunities and pursuing them.
What is ultimately holding businesses back, however, takes place on a far more individual level – the people who are sat at their desks choosing (or not choosing) to take action. I hope to see more business leaders challenging themselves and their employees to fail more, and paving the way forward towards true innovation.
Ritam Gandhi, is the Founder and Director of Studio Graphene – a London-based company that specialises in the development of blank canvas tech products including apps, websites, AR, IoT and more.
The company has completed over 100 projects since first being started in 2014, working with both new entrepreneurs and product development teams within larger companies.
The ‘Innovate Or Die’ Mindset Is Misguided. Here’s Why