I started my career in the 90s, as an external management consultant who worked on the business process reengineering aspects of large systems integrations. Our clients would spend millions of dollars reengineering the organization, but they often did not implement the changes. My personal experience reflected what research indicated: 80% of change projects fail.
In a sun-filled boardroom overlooking lower Manhattan, I was sitting with a group of chief strategy officers for part of our Outthinker Roundtable discussion. Professor George Day, leading expert on innovation and marketing, and faculty member at Wharton Business School, shared a concept about disruption that has been infecting my thoughts ever since.
US corporations invest more than $350 billion a year on innovation through R&D efforts. So it’s easy to assume that such formal efforts propel innovation more than any other factor.
Debbie Brackeen was in the “innovation” business before it was even called “innovation.” After completing her undergrad at Stanford University, she found herself in the heart of Silicon Valley. She spent her first years at Apple followed by stints at a variety of high-tech companies from HP to venture-baked start-ups. Today she is the chief strategy and innovation officer at CSAA Insurance Group, one of the largest AAA insurers in the world.
The 150+ internal innovators I’ve interviewed over recent years all have precisely one thing in common. This thing they share is not any of the traits we typically associate with successful innovators: not creativity, customer insight, or influence; not technical knowledge, team leadership skills, or marketing prowess.
No … the one thing they share is this: persistence. They don’t give up.
While working on an analysis for a client, attempting to assess the key trends that will shape the future of apparel, my mind turns to how an emerging technology in any industry can rise, fall, and eventually succeed. To help understand how trends like artificial intelligence, blockchain, or big data will affect any client, we often turn to the “hype cycle.”
If you have been feeling the pace of change accelerating, 2018 will demand an even faster pace. Companies that thrive will have to learn to experiment like a startup.
If you are thinking this is a motivation piece about the power of ambitious thinking, it’s not. What I’m going to lay out here has nothing to do with psychology or inspiration. This is basic math. A concept so simple, you will grow frustrated that your company doesn’t embrace it. My 11-year-old gets it. But the $50b company I worked with yesterday doesn’t.
People often ask me how to incentivize entrepreneurial behavior from within an established organization. My first answer is “stop killing it.” Leaders put so many barriers and shut doors in front of would-be internal entrepreneurs that just lifting a few barriers or leaving a few doors ajar would on their own create a momentous acceleration in their flow of innovation.
Over one billion people are on it. While its future is still uncertain, it is already impacting most businesses, transforming journalism, and raising broad societal issues in its wake.