“Necessity is the mother of invention” so goes the old proverb and it’s true. Most people will only change to do something new when they have no choice. People hate to change it seems but conversely that’s what innovation is all about. If companies don’t continually reinvent what they do through innovation they will eventually die. “Adapt or die” as the saying goes, but then why do so many companies only innovate when forced to rather than innovating on purpose? Witness the massive changes that the current pandemic has forced upon businesses for example.

How many years have they prevaricated over home working but now it’s been forced on them they don’t want to go back to the office! Now I’m a big cricket fan and for years people have said the County Championship was outdated and needed to change, but nothing happened. Each year the same discussion and little or no action. But when the pandemic forced the season to be compressed into two months a new structure was born almost overnight, it’s called The Bob Willis Trophy. It has been such a success that they now want to retain it for next year. Change can be so positive and yet we resist it. Why is that?

The status quo

During my time spent working with hi-tech companies it comes down to a couple of factors. Firstly, and most obviously, it’s easier to continue with the status quo. “I know how to do this so why make life difficult?” is the stance. The answer to that is “well if you don’t someone else will and they’ll eventually put you out of business!”. “Business As Usual (BAU)” is the biggest barrier to innovation for many companies. Kodak for example actually invented the digital camera but can you imagine Kodak’s reaction to “I’ve got this great idea. It’s a camera that doesn’t need film!” when most of their revenue came from film?

Analysis Paralysis

The second is “Analysis Paralysis”. Companies spend an age trying to justify the business case for what they’re trying to do. Accounting has nothing to do with innovation but so often holds it back, we won’t spend money until we’re sure there’s a return. We are scared of failure. You can’t innovate in this way. Innovation naturally involves risk and the unknown, we can’t be sure of anything, but accounting and market research try to make it a science, something that can be proven by numbers, it can’t. Companies feel they need to have rational explanations for why something will work when in reality most product purchases are emotional, even in B2B, and that’s not something an algorithm can explain. We either end up building great solutions for the wrong problem or take the easy option of incremental development; just add a few features to what we already have and charge a bit more. We’re playing it safe.

Taking a risk

How then do we overcome resistance and create real innovation? We have to develop ideas at risk and prove them through trial and error. Test them on actual customers to see if they work. Because, we are not interested in what customers say, that’s where market research falls down, it’s how they behave that matters. If customers show by their actions, their behaviour that they get it, we are on to a winner. However, to do this requires the bravery to go out on a limb, to take a risk, to put something in the hands of customers that we can’t know ahead of time will actually resonate with them. In other words, we have to be prepared for failure but when we fail, we learn and that leads to innovating on purpose; because we want to, not because we have to.