In this blog, I explore why this is hard and what you can do about it.
Eighteen months ago, few of us were predicting a global pandemic, and it’s changed us both personally and professionally. At work, we’ve been surprised by how quickly our teams have adapted to new ways of working, and at home, we’ve had to learn new skills. Hands up all who have learned that being a teacher is no easy skill to master
Yet this challenge of change is very much a part of our world. Gone are the days when a business could remain relevant for decades without having to reinvent itself. Competition now comes from unexpected places – few hotel chains would have thought of the Airbnb model years ago. But, reinvention is hard, If it were easy, companies like Kodak and Blockbuster would have adapted as opposed to failing.
In this blog, I consider how business leaders can simultaneously improve today’s business and create radical opportunities for the future.
Once our business has got off the ground, we rightly focus on making it better, and more efficient and effective for our customers. Most companies do this well, and most of the time you’re dealing with a fairly predictable environment (pandemics excepted!). This enables planning and consistent execution, which over time yields a deep understanding of your market and drives consistent performance and growth.
Take the automotive industry. Cars are infinitely better than 30 years ago; faster, safer and more efficient, yet the world’s most valuable car company is not one of the traditional players – it’s a start-up from 2003, Tesla. The car industry was very good at exploiting today, but it took an outsider to create tomorrow. How can you make sure that this does not happen in your business?
In the focus on today, we become very good at harnessing our knowledge and experience to make the most of a reasonably predictable environment.
However, when we create the products and services for tomorrow, we’re dealing with a highly uncertain environment, and we can’t rely on past experience to predict what customers will do in the future.
Here’s the rub: most organisations and ways of working are rightly geared towards exploiting today, but those processes which help us today, won’t be effective at creating tomorrow. We need to find a way to create an ambidextrous organisation that can focus on both today and tomorrow. Easy in principle; hard in practice.
In their fantastic book, The Invincible Company, Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pignuer, Fred Entiemble and Alan Smith explore how to create the invincible company. The diagram below, adapted from their book, shows the journey from initial idea to a successful product in the marketplace.
Developing business ideas
Adapted from (Osterwalder A, Pigneur Y, Etiemble F, & Smith A. (2020). The Invincible Company, Wiley, New Jersey)
Few great innovations started without an idea – the Wright Brothers were captivated by the idea of flight; Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook with the idea of connecting Harvard students. And it’s fair to say there are probably many great ideas in your company today; the challenge is to find the techniques to validate and accelerate those ideas into a successful new offering.
The good news is that just like anything else, it’s a process, one which embraces uncertainty, accepts that learning comes from productive failure, and drives fast progress. The approach enables the smartest ideas to progress, ready for you to scale and exploit. This principle of productive failure is something that we all have at the start of life but often lose. Just think of a toddler learning to walk – it’s the process of understanding all the ways to fall, so you can learn not to.
Many books have been written on this subject, so I’m limiting myself to a few tips to get you started.
Don’t be another statistic or business school case study. Your business can create successful new offerings if the right passion, process and creative spark are there to make great things happen. Decide to make it so.
The processes you’ve built up are the backbone of your business; keep at it and keep building. Developing your next offering has to be an incremental activity as it won’t pay the bills on day one.
One of my greatest achievements was building a new and innovative online business in a traditional manufacturing business – which now contributes significant revenue to the firm. Whilst this project was my baby, it was enabled by the then CEO who allowed me to take a risk and gave me the opportunity to experiment. Great things are never done without risk and courage.
This is a big challenge. You want to drive growth and you need everyone onboard. Those who are creating your growth engine will need to work in different ways to other parts of the business. However, you don’t want two classes of employees, those who do all the work and those who have all the fun. Successful leaders need to allow for different working styles and practices and unite with one compelling vision which connects with a shared purpose and endeavour.
The good news is that this has been done before – the toolkit and approach have been well documented. By using a proven toolkit, you’ll dramatically improve your chances of success. Alternatively, find the right partner to guide you on your journey.
As a Digital and Growth Consultant, I work with clients to enable them to write their own growth story. Whilst digital may be a common part of the solution, the magic is all about finding the insight and using proven approaches to help you prove your idea – and when proved, scaling it into your next big revenue stream. Fancy learning more? Get in touch to chat through your challenges and aspirations.
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