3 lessons I’ve Learned about Innovation

Let me start off by saying, I love innovation.  I love seeing a superior product.  I love it when stuff just works flawlessly and beautifully.  I’m relentless in the pursuit of excellence and often to a fault as I borderline on perfection.  So, when I see a problem, I notice it right away.  I try to solve it in my head.  Sometimes, I have an ADHD/OCD moment and start fixing things right away, only to realize that I should have planned things more carefully. Over the last 24 months of starting our growth plan, I’ve learned much about innovation and what the TRUE cost of innovation really is.  Today, I want to share with you 3 lessons I’ve learned about innovation and why it should be handled carefully.

1. Innovation is EXPENSIVE and TIME CONSUMING

Once in a while when I’m visiting a business location I’ll see something that bothers me.  It is either a bad system, poor customer service, or just something that isn’t done the right way.  I’ll say to my wife, “Why don’t they just change that?  It would be a simple fix.”

In my head I can see all the things wrong with the organization and in many cases I’m vocal about what should be done about it… at least to my wife.  So why isn’t anything being done?  The number one reason businesses don’t innovate is because of the expense to change.  Not only in regards to dollars, but you also have to consider the time factor for innovation.  For example, if a larger corporation is going to change their computer system, they can’t just call a local IT company to install it at several thousand locations.  It has to be budgeted, tested, planned out, paid for, and implemented with careful caution so it will not interrupt the daily operations.

I learned this lesson the hard way when I wrote our business plan 2 years ago.  It is easy to write a business plan and document the solution.  Rolling it out on the other hand is a whole different animal.  Before innovation is rolled out, the overall cost must be explored in regards to time and money.

2. Innovation REQUIRES Details

It is easy to say to a company, “All you need is ___________________.”  But what the average customer doesn’t realize is that before that seemingly small system is changed, other systems may have to be changed as well.  In most cases, organizations have multiple smaller systems in place that they’ve pieced together.  They come to rely on each other.  If they change one item, more than likely they will have to change others as well.

For example, a few months ago I was talking to a business owner about her website.  She told me that she used the old website software for email marketing.  So in order for her to get a new website, she also needed a new email marketing system as well.  The point is that the website couldn’t be changed unless she changed both email marketing and the website at the same time.

The error of innovation when rolled out at breakneck speed, is that the details are missed.  What happens is that once an improvement is made, we take two steps back and admire our work.  Only to realize that the change has broken something else which must be fixed.  I’m preaching to the choir with this one.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve admired the improvements we’ve made, only to realize that by fixing one thing, we’d broken something else.

3. Innovation REDUCES Income

Lastly, and probably most importantly, innovation reduces the bandwidth of a company so that it often doesn’t grow revenues as quickly during this time.  Money is being spent.  Meetings are being held.  While there is great vision, revenues can become stagnant.   This is where planning comes into place.  What are we giving up to build this?  For small businesses, the owner will be giving up raises, vacations, and bragging rights because their focus is divided during the innovation build out.  He only hopes to capitalize on the improvements after they are finished.  Innovation is always an entrepreneurial gamble where ideas are not yet monetized by the entrepreneur.

Picture this if you will.  An entrepreneur decides to reinvent his business and add new services.  He has great ideas and goes to work thinking it will take him one year to complete.  His business is healthy and he’s willing to take a pay cut because if everything works out, he’ll have a huge pay day.  The innovations will eventually make life easier for him as well.  As he gets started, he realizes it will take him longer than he expected.  In fact, it will take him 2 years instead of 1.  Everything takes longer and is harder than he expects.  Everything costs more.  He pushes on.  As he goes along, he’s hit out of nowhere from the blind spots he didn’t know he had.  He recovers after further delay.

After 2 years, he’s nearing the finish line.   Spending the long hours learning has taken a toll on sales, morale, and his confidence.  What he’s built is amazing and is superior in every way to his competitors, but he’s worn out.  Finally, he’s ready to launch the changes and push growth, but is it too late?  If there enough capital for the launch?  So who’s this guy?

Yes, I’m that GUY!

Over the last two years, we’ve been quietly building something amazing.  Our training program is WORLD CLASS and the systems and client tools will blow away any marketing company out there.  We traded fast growth for a bigger and stronger foundation.  For me, it was principle, we wanted do go good by our customers.  We wanted to deliver value.  Yet, the same pursuit of excellence and innovation has taken a heavy toll on us as I didn’t think it would be so hard.

So how does the story end?  Honestly, I’m not sure just yet.  In our first re-launch, we’ve seeing some pretty amazing numbers.  It was all that I expected and then some.  The second launch is still coming, but I expect that it will wow us as well.  Will the entrepreneurial “gamble” pay off big time?  I think it will.  In the long run, I know we’ll be better for making the changes needed.  While we’re not perfect, I know that our inside reality and USPs are ROCK SOLID.

So Why INNOVATE if it is SO HARD?

Since having an AMAZING unique selling point is part of the marketing approach, we had to build something better.  At the same time, I’ve licked my wounds and learned some good lessons about better planning and slowing down changes.  At the same time, I know that if we didn’t make things better, we’d have a stale offering and wouldn’t wow our customers.  Conversions would decrease over time, and we wouldn’t be able to grow.  Part of innovation, is not just being the best, it is being able to SAY you’re the best with a CLEAR CONSCIENCE.

As we apply the other 3 steps of marketing to our business, we should see an explosion of enduring growth.  Why?  Because people buy on the VALUE we bring to the table.  The USP covers every aspect of marketing.  Thus having a company that is relevant and customer focused, is one that endures.

Why innovate and go through this pain then?  Because if your company isn’t willing to pay the price, other companies will, and they will eventually bury you as they rise.  Remember KMART?  They were the biggest retailer in the world and what happened?  They were beat by Walmart.  They were beat by Target.  Innovation is critical to success, just remember that it will take longer and cost more than you expect.  It will require some careful and strategic planning.  Lastly, be sure that your cash flow needs are covered while you build the future.