I have been repeating myself for a decade. In each of the 1,000 or so workshops and keynotes I have delivered over the past ten years, I have repeated some version of the refrain, “Do what customers love and competitors won’t copy.”
The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing.
- Eugene Delacroix
In the late 1970s, Kevin Allen was sitting in a boardroom about to deliver some bad news. His client, Mastercard, would surely not respond well. But Allen is masterful at understanding markets. He understands one core concept that separates good brands from great ones. If he could get Mastercard executives to embrace this counterintuitive secret, he would set the company on a decades-long streak of wins against far larger competitors.
The echoes of this great marble hall always bring me back to college. I’m sitting in the Philadelphia 30th Street Station, awaiting my Amtrak train to take me home, circled by ornate pillars and homeward-bound revelries on a Friday afternoon.
Organizations that have all the money, talent and technology in the world are struggling to innovate with deadly consequences. Why?
- They get real comfortable
- They take it nice and slow
- They stop caring about those pesky customers
When it comes to pitching your employer new business ideas, few can claim a track record as impressive as Brendan Ripp’s. Brendan most recently served as group publisher of the Sports Illustrated Group, where he led the development of nearly two dozen brand extensions, including a new film production unit, a college sports vertical, consumer events for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit and most recently the launch of SI Overtime, a branded content studio. He also formed content, media and marketing partnerships with WebMD and Wired, prior to which he served as publisher of Time, Fortune and Money.
The anger that fuels my mission today surges from a speech I heard a year ago, in Las Vegas, in a packed conference hall. The keynote speaker opened with the line: “I have come to believe that large organizations cannot innovate. They produce ‘innovation antibodies’ that attack new ideas.”
You have an idea that will generate new profits for your company and make you even more of a hero. You can already feel the pats on your back and the industry keynote speech you will deliver, humbly explaining how you did it.
The world seems to have suddenly discovered a nirvana of agile prototyping. Some call it lean or lean start-up, some use human-centered design or design thinking, and you may even hear reference to agile or scrum. Whatever the name, the core message is the same: stop trying to build an idea (a business plan, product, marketing message) to perfection. Instead, conduct small experiments with your stakeholders to learn and improve.
The days when innovation was the sole responsibility of the chief innovation officer or corporate venturing group are over. Today companies are realizing they need to harness the innovative power of all their employees if they want to grow.
I’ve been thinking lately that it all comes down to one question: What’s it worth?
Were the nights away from my kids, years invested in school, midnight sessions hammering away on my next book as I built my consulting business worth it? Was the time you invested selling, stressing, persisting as you built your business worth it?