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Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way: What’s Your Approach to Innovation?

What would you do if your CEO gave you a “Get Out of Jail Free” card to innovate – giving you the freedom to create “the next big thing” without risking your job and well-earned reputation? Would you accept that opportunity? Or would you shy away?

That’s the situation many executives are handed today. Some are bravely accepting the challenge. Meanwhile, others are declining the offer and moving forward with strategies and systems that appear to be working well. Which set of executives is taking the right approach?

This week’s episode “Future of Accelerated Innovation: Lead, Follow or Move Over” from The Future of Business with Game Changers, a special edition series of SAP Radio, explores how companies can be successful in today’s environment of accelerated innovation. The panel featured Josh Linkner, New York Times bestselling author of “Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity” and CEO and managing partner of Detroit Venture Partners; Colleen Speer, vice president and head of Active Global Support North America at SAP; and Michel Sérié, global head of Service Innovation, Global Services, for SAP.

Playing it safe is the riskiest move of all

Josh Linkner started the conversation by discussing why companies can no longer expect to be successful if they continue to cling to the past – even if  everything works well. “The world is changing at a pace like no other time in history. Success is only achieved in the context of a variety of external factors that are also changing at an increasingly difficult speed. Playing it safe is a very dangerous thing. The very best careers and organizations are based on people taking responsible risk, hanging out on a limb, and resisting the mediocrity of just trying not to lose,” he observed.

Success is a temporary condition, not a permanent state like so many believe. Linkner speculated, “Many organizations and individuals hit a point where they think they’ve cracked the code to success. This is unfortunate because success happens in the context of many external factors. To remain on top, leaders must embrace the concept of continuous reinvention.” 

As a result, creativity has become the currency of success as executives overcome extreme competition and complexity. By proactively putting your ‘old self’ out of business before the competition does, companies have a better chance at driving long-term success. Executives should build a culture that supports responsible risk taking and celebrates new ideas. More important, decisions should be based on current circumstances, instead of blindly saluting the flag of the past. 

But Linkner cautioned, “Don’t just disrupt the company for the sake of reinvention – question everything about the business to make sure decisions are still relevant. And don’t reinvent everything all at once. Break down a larger organization into respective areas of focus, reinvent them systematically, and use the winds of change to fuel each step.”

It only seems impossible until it’s done

Colleen Speer continued Linkner’s thoughts on the dynamics and pace of innovation and its effect on the business world. “Companies are facing a call for transformation to reach their market landscape and customers while staying up to date on technologies at an incredible pace. Sometimes, it seems impossible for companies to get to where they need to be today to position themselves for the future. But, it’s possible as long as there’s sustainable simplicity,” she suggested.

Every line of business (LoB) is now the decision maker in many companies. They need simple, more flexible solutions that still have a level of accuracy and traceability required in a system of record for the company. “If LoBs are not happy, running fast, and getting the innovations they need, the company as a whole is impacted. Therefore, if the LoB isn’t moving forward and innovating, neither is the company,” mentioned Speer.

They key is making sure business processes are agile and do not inhibit growth and innovation speeds. If you break down the technology that supports these processes, you’ll see three layers: information, integration, and the user experience. According to Speer, “If companies streamline what’s happening on the back end and make sure the information is harmonized, accessible, and insightful, they can standardize processes for collecting and delivering that data. And once that’s done, a user experience that satisfies the business need on demand can be created.”

By simplifying the technological framework, a company can accelerate its ability to innovate and gain operational efficiencies from standardization – improving the cost of ownership over the long term. “The more companies save from operations, the more they can invest in innovation and unleash some serious power,” Speer noted.

Start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology

Michel Sérié reflected on the importance of keeping the end user in mind when it comes to innovation. “Technology is no longer a barrier. But a new innovation is only as great as the customer need it fulfills,” he stated. Since LoBs are making decisions that impact the entire company, IT departments are quickly becoming a change agent. By integrating design thinking into the business culture, IT is able to encourage creativity and innovation by including LoBs.

However, some LoBs may be uneasy about providing their ideas – no matter how good they are. Some employees fear that they are overstepping their responsibilities and trespassing on someone else’s territory. And worse yet, some even believe that they may lose their job if an idea doesn’t pan out after an investment in time, money, and effort has been made to bring the concept to life. Sérié advised, “Management needs to stand behind a culture of change to make employees feel welcomed into the design-thinking process and that they are not taking a big risk by bringing up ideas that are incremental or disruptive. Furthermore, companies must move beyond generating and collecting ideas – rather, they need to pinpoint relevant, impactful ideas and act on them.” 

With every new generation, people will continue to innovate. But the only change will be the pace at which they innovate – in fact, it will be faster than anything we have ever seen before. Sérié predicted, “We now have everything in place to start the next wave of innovation, which will include cyberphysical systems, networks, and bionics. And for companies to take part in this technological revolution, they will need support collaborative innovation – enabling them to lead the competition in a sustainable manner.”

To listen to a replay of this edition of the Future of Business with Game Changers series, presented by SAP Radio, click here.