There are two fatal concepts for business success that you are likely going to encounter numerous times over the course of your career. They are just that common, and they are why so many enterprises fail to achieve their goals.
If it ain’t broke…
Let me start with this one first, because it is the most well-known. You’ve probably heard this before, but the deadliest phrase you can hear as a rationale for choosing a course of action is, “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
You can see the logic in that thinking. If an organization has created or discovered a solution that works in a given situation, every time that situation arises, they’ll turn to their go-to plan. Because that’s the way they’ve always done it. Because it works.
The trouble is, once you’ve settled on one way of doing things – to the exclusion of all others – you’ve stopped learning. You’ve stopped innovating. The world changes fast, and new technologies, creative new approaches, and new competitors are rapidly changing the landscape. A company that stagnates on their ‘tried and true’ solutions is at risk of obsolescence.
So yeah, you definitely don’t want to hear that ‘the way things have always been done works just fine‘ as a justification for shooting down new ideas. I’ve butted heads across that particular boardroom table too many times to count.
Just because something isn’t broken, doesn’t mean you can’t make it better, or that somebody else won’t. The fax machine wasn’t broken. Email is better. Dial up Internet worked. Wireless broadband is better. Road maps were a good idea (if hard to fold), GPS is better.
The flip side of inertia
But the other major threat to business success is almost the opposite of this, and it is even more dangerous. That is the unwavering, almost religious devotion to a new idea that will revolutionize the business and conquer the market.
That’s the flip side of the inertia coin. A messianic leader proposing a bold new business strategy and directing the entire company to focus on this new mission. Innovation is good. Companies need to try new things, adopt new strategies, develop and grow. But blind faith in an idea often leads to colossal failures and catastrophic wastes of resources. It can be a faster path to extinction even than stagnation.
I’ve been at companies that make this mistake over and over again. All of the efforts (and hundreds of thousands of dollars) redirected to a project that is so important to upper management that even when warning signs begin to appear with alarming frequency that it will not work out as planned, staff are too afraid to speak out. Those who do are labelled unsupportive, negative, or not team players.
It creates a situation very similar to the parable of the Emperor’s New Clothes. People on the ground can see what’s going on, but no one can say so – or they’re not heard – until it is too late. Despite hiring staff for their critical thinking, problem solving, and communications skills, too many organizations still reward conformity, loyalty, and blind enthusiasm over people actually exercising those abilities.
The solution lies in realizing that innovation alone is not enough. Innovation has a less glamorous sibling. They are symbiotic. Innovation cannot succeed without Optimization. This means that while it is important to invest and experiment with creative new solutions, it is equally vital to set milestone goals, measure results, collect feedback and optimize that strategy accordingly.
If it’s not going to work, you need to figure it out sooner rather than later – but don’t stop there. Find out why. Then revise the strategy and move forward.
Innovation requires data, critical thinking, and real-time reporting to evaluate whether a new approach is working. Otherwise bad ideas can cost organizations the crucial resources, time, money, and morale that are essential for growth.
The best new solutions will come from those who are willing to think creatively, to innovate and experiment – and to learn along the way. This requires having the right tools and technologies in place for measuring results, monitoring feedback, and easy stakeholder communications.
There are no bad ideas in a brainstorming session. The collective input from a team of smart thinkers leads to creative new approaches to business challenges. However, clinging to a strategy that was great in theory but is demonstrably not working in practice is a bad idea. So is refusing to try new things.
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