May 26, 2017

How to Innovate | Future Proof

This is the second in a series of articles by leadership and innovation expert Scott Steinberg, who will deliver a keynote address at the 2015 Library Journal Directors’ Summit, Brand Challenge: Communicating the New Library to Build New Brand Equity, held Nov. 12–13 in Washington, DC.

Scott SteinbergEven for forward-thinking libraries and librarians, who operate in one of today’s most fast-changing and dynamic fields, concepts like innovation and change management may sometimes seem esoteric. If so, don’t be alarmed: Even the world’s most progressive business schools typically offer precious little training in these increasingly vital subjects. Happily for those operating on the frontlines of leadership or administration though, mastering these concepts—the art of staying ahead of the curve—doesn’t have to be a difficult process. In fact, all it often takes to get ahead and continuously go from strength to strength in today’s hyper-kinetic business world is to stay alert, stay adaptable, and stay amenable to new ideas and strategies. Flexibility is, in short, the essence of future-proofing.

Change is not optional

If you or your organization should find yourselves struggling to change and evolve, it may help to consider: successful enterprises don’t seek to avoid change. Instead, they recognize that great change will happen whether they accept it or not, so they embrace change, and routinely prepare themselves to more effectively greet coming shifts long before these sea changes ever arrive. Likewise, the most common mistake most organizations make in the face of increasingly volatile and disruptive business environments (and the most common reason they find themselves challenged by these situations) is an unwillingness to adapt. Even in the face of impending changes, not doing things differently often seems like a safe bet—especially if we’re already successful.

Taking the right risks

Faced with uncertainty or unpredicted events, most organizations (and working professionals) try their hardest to be risk-free. But to get ahead in unpredictable times or business landscapes, it pays to recall: Succeeding isn’t about taking fewer risks—rather, it’s about taking more risks, albeit smarter ones. Finding winning solutions in uncertain times is largely a process of controlled speculation or making educated gambles. In essence, successful innovators don’t try to play it safe. Recognizing that risky is the new safe, and that inevitable change is coming, they make calculated and cost-affordable bets that help them address these coming shifts. (Or, as we like to joke, unless you’ve got a crystal ball that works, it pays to grow a pair of brass ones instead…)

Make your own luck

By constantly applying new strategies, perspectives, and tactics, these individuals and enterprises relentlessly experiment with new solutions. In the process, they gain insight that’s invaluable to adjusting tactics in time with changing environments to be more successful, acquiring vital insights and expanding their comfort zones as they go. By doing so, these innovators effectively allow their knowledge and capabilities to compound, steadily and surely bending the odds of finding winning solutions in their favor, essentially building a means to create their own luck and opportunities by being “braver” (or more relentlessly practical).

Whatever your stated goal(s), you can do the same by picking a spread of promising new growth avenues or opportunities to pursue on an organizational or personal level—then pursuing them as quickly as possible. The faster you act, and the more cleverly and consistently you do so, updating and course-correcting strategies to be more effective going forward, the more consistently successful you’ll find yourself becoming over a long-term horizon.

Innovation for everyone

If there’s one thing we discovered in our research with scores of leading innovators for our new book Make Change Work for You, it’s that every one of us, enterprises and individuals alike, are capable of successfully innovating. All it often takes to successfully innovate your way out of a dilemma, or to ongoing success, is a simple shift in mindset. The more practical and persistent you are about tinkering with new business strategies and approaches, the more successful you’ll be—no matter what the future throws at you.

For example: MasterCard is one of the world’s largest and most successful financial services institutions. But faced with ongoing competition from an ever-growing array of start-ups and vendors offering novel solutions, it’s got no choice but to constantly try new things and reinvent itself—competition is suddenly hitting hit harder, more frequently, and from more angles than ever before. Thankfully, the model the organization uses to innovate is so simple that any of us can replicate it. Specifically, MasterCard suggests:

  • Look ahead 3–5 years at what tomorrow’s end-user wants, and put into play the people, tools, learning, insights, resources, and capabilities needed to offer these solutions today.
  • Take smart risks, and constantly deploy new business strategies and solutions, failing quickly and cheaply, learning as you go.
  • Update and course-correct your business strategies with each new venture, so you can do better with each successive effort.
  • Partner with other organizations, industry thought leaders, and the community at large to vastly multiply the number of insights, opportunities, and resources available to you when tackling any given concern. When you radically multiply the number of tools and insights you have to draw upon, you radically enhance your ability to solve problems and capitalize on promising new areas for organizational growth.

Among the solutions MasterCard uses to help stay ahead of the curve are hackathon events, where businesspeople and software developers are asked to create new product concepts and business plans in less than two days; internal startups, or ventures within the organization (a.k.a. companies within the company), where employees are asked to think like entrepreneurs and invent new products and services on a running basis; and, of course, numerous partnerships and joint efforts with outside organizations, including week-long salons where participants from the company and other businesses it’s partnered with team up to solve pressing problems. One group taking part in a joint venture even managed to make washing machines seamlessly take payments from smartphones (no change required) in 4-1/2 days.

To succeed with change and innovation, you don’t have to be brighter or better funded. You just have to be more resourceful and inventive—and more persistent about pushing forward and adapting to changes the market presents. The key is to always be in constant motion, rather than to remain static while times, trends, and competitors are constantly marching on. It’s not difficult to stay ahead of the curve when you’re constantly moving with it, and taking deliberate steps to actively look around the next turn.

Award-winning professional speaker Scott Steinberg is a bestselling expert on leadership and innovation, and the author of Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty. Among today’s leading providers of keynote speeches, workshops and seminars for Fortune 500 firms, his website is www.AKeynoteSpeaker.com.

 

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