It’s no surprise when I hear that many business leaders believe they are investing in innovation. The real surprise, perhaps, is how those investments are not paying off. Traditional organizational culture has a tendency not only to create a sub par environment for customer-centric innovation, but to completely discourage innovative thinking altogether.
Here are 5 ways your company may be destroying innovative ideas before they have a chance to be considered.
1. Focusing too much on the product
One thing I talk about often at conferences and webinars is how customers don’t care as much as you do about your products. They don’t go about their daily lives with your brand on their minds, no matter how great you are. They interact and engage with your brand when it is right for them, based on what your product allows them to do and the emotional reaction they get from engaging.
But many companies approach the idea of INNOVATION with the product itself at the center of the table. “How can we stay ahead of the competition when we’re all selling the same products?” Game-changing innovation has always resulted from focusing on what lies beyond the product.
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Zappos, after all, is one of countless companies that sell the same shoes. Amazon’s books are the same books sold in your neighborhood bookstore. Their products are commodities, but they have innovated to create memorable customer experiences. Now, the expectations of their customers are based on these experiences. The marketplace was turned upside-down with their innovative experiences. It’s not about the product, it never was and it never will be.
2. Organizational silos
Years ago, I used to joke that part of my job with a Fortune 50 company was to report the news from “across the street.” This was not really much of a joke. The street that separated the company’s campus literally created an epic divide in the flow of communication, even with email and virtual conferences being used more frequently. Working with a diverse group of departments, including their online direct customer division, marketing and employee communications, I often had access to more vital information than the employees responsible for big strategy issues.
There are too many things wrong here. It’s not possible to innovate around customers if one department is not properly informed about what another department is doing to serve them. In fact, it is detrimental. Encouraging transparency and open communication needs to big part of a customer-centric innovation strategy in order for it to be successful. If everyone doesn’t feel like they work with the customer, that’s a huge problem.
3. Lack of diversity
Humans tend to congregate with other humans who are most like them. It’s been proven that we generally are biased toward people who look and think the way we do. In an article on innovation in Fortune, the author Jeff DeGraff, argues this point exactly.
“Leaders of complex organizations tend to surround themselves with like-minded people, which reinforces conventional approaches.”
If a team is composed completely of like-minded individuals, the sparks that ignite innovation simply can’t happen. Have you ever been in a meeting where a genuinely thought-provoking question is answered with “that’s how it’s done in this industry.” No matter what industry you work in, this is the worst possible answer if you are striving for innovation.
4. Playing it too safe
The customer experience should be an organic, ever-changing thing. Real life is always changing to suit current needs and adapt to the environment, so why should the customer experience be lifeless and static? The problem is when decision-makers are unwilling to take risks and allow for a few mistakes in the process. Innovation is messy and requires some risk taking. If everyone in the organization is feels like their job may be on the line for these types of errors, innovation will be slow and weak.
I once heard an executive tell his people, “nobody lost their job for not having ideas, but people get fired for bad ideas all the time.” That pearl of wisdom set the stage for an environment where no new ideas would ever be brought forward. Innovation was killed that day, and swiftly at that.
5. Keeping the status quo
Time and time again, companies suddenly decide to start focusing on innovation when they realize they have fallen behind, and by then it’s often way too late. Where would Borders be right now if they had not waited for sales to plummet before making futile attempts to stay in the game?
Traditional colleges are waking up to the reality that online universities pose a serious threat with easier enrollment and courses that fit into the busy schedules of students with jobs and families to consider. But many of them are too late, and in serious trouble for waiting way too long to consider innovation.
K-Mart and Wal-Mart and Target all have similar offerings, but Target continues to innovate in both what they have to offer and how they serve it to their customers. Customers notice the difference. They make their choices based on what suits their needs and lifestyles TODAY.
With more choices, innovation becomes an all-important arrow in the quiver.
It’s time to look at the world around you objectively and with bravery. Be your own Customer Experience Investigator and face the facts. Nobody loves your brand enough to stay with you when someone else is offering an experience that makes more sense for the way they are living right now.
Have you destroyed your most vital customer-centric innovation before it even had a chance to be considered?