The long run towards innovation (and great products)

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Paula Radcliffe NY Marathon

Looking at the development of the average life expectancy of S&P enterprises, it is evident that even large enterprises (considered stable) nowadays have a drastically reduced life span. This is the result of an ever-increasing evolutionary pressure, being caused by several factors, among them:

  • the increased connectedness in the economic and knowledge world,
  • the resulting complexity with the added difficulty that complexity is a new thing to handle, additionally made harder by limited predictability,
  • an increased rate of knowledge exchange and growth,
  • driven by new ways and tools of communication in a
  • world and in markets changing at fast pace

Of course if you are emotionally or existentially attached to an enterprise, you have different thoughts, feelings and opinions. You care. Then, the outlook of having to close soon because your company cannot adapt to these changes is depressing and causing pressure – pressure to change. You could actually get a cold sweat thinking about this. And this is what typically happens: people come to their minds and are looking for ways to avoid the average.

Average company lifespan S&P 500

Average company lifespan S&P 500

For many companies the obvious way to go is now: Innovation. Solving new and enough consumer needs and thus create value through innovation. Now I got good and bad news for you:

  • The good one first: Really every company can do it. It is no art, it is craftsmanship that can be learned and acquired. It’s true.
  • The bad follows straight: Innovation doesn’t just happen. You need to work hard at it. It is a conscious decision. It needs to be integral part of your everyday life and culture. And once you do so, it will change many things in your company.

Marathon for a change

A little side step: There are three types of marathoners (it’s no different with the sub distances 10k or half marathon or actually any sport):

  • Type 1 wants to just run a marathon for the sheer fun of it, because it’s considered a cool thing to do. Because in some circles you just gotta do it. And then type 1 just goes for it and just does it. Somehow. Rather struggling and suffering than running, the goal may be reached. Possibly an injury will happen, because type 1 has no clue about training theory and what ever is needed. The day after the marathon, type 1 goes to work (if he’s not sick or injured) to receive some kind of hero treatment. Those bystanders who know get straight back to their desk, head shaking. But what the heck. Marathon: ✔ done! (But never again – it hurt!)
  • Type 2 has a hunch that a marathon is actually quite an effort. They look into the literature, have a look at a training schedule. They go for a structured training for some weeks or months. Type 2 has a better outlook at getting out of this healthy and motivated. But it still is no fun and much less a success. But at least Type 2 can also brag a little about the marathon. It was hard, after all.
  • Type 3 is serious about the marathon. After some time of structures training, when it comes down to the preparing 35k runs (that Type 1 and 2 left out or didn’t know about), they realize it might be too early. Then they first go fur the sub distances of 10k and half marathon. Here they get experience and endurance and toughness for races. Possibly, the delay the actual marathon for 1 or two years, but, hey, they have fun with the discipline and work involved. And this is already real running!  And they actually learn running and how to improve and how to diversify the training. Running has become a natural, integral part of their life. No bragging here, but self-consciousness about the amount of work involved and the remaining improvement potential. Running itself is now the goal, not the event.

Innovation and products again

Now, we don’t want to over-moralize the issue. Type 1 and Type 2 are nice people, but they are not runners. And it is the same with innovation. And it is the same with innovation or also simply with good product discovery and management. There is no sense in simply doing an innovation workshop and then, a few months later, looking at the results and being surprised it actually made sense. If a company really wants to create value for its customers, it needs to care about its customers continuously. And it needs to be a continuous, honest and serious undertaking.

There is no shortcut and there is no easy way. But: even the hard ways can be fun and are worth the effort. But only after the conscious decision to start where you are and continuously improve. And of course, it starts today, not next year, next month, week or day. And of course, one of these workshops can be a great start into this world (of course we love to help!). But this great first experience only helps once the decision is clear and committed to pull it all through. Change will be involved.

How much work needs to be invested in culture and values, but how much fun that can also be, is the topic of this article by Arne Roock on his work at Jimdo. Or, as Tim Kastelle says in his blog post “The secret is that there is no secret”:

“You have to do the work. In the case of innovation, the work involves engaging the people you work with, experimenting, and figuring out how to scale what works, while learning from what doesn’t.

If you actually think about how to do this within your organisation, you’ll realise that it leads to profound changes. That is why people look for a shortcut. Or a secret. I’ll give you the secret: there are no secrets. You just have to do the work.” – Tim Kastelle

If you want to innovate, you have to try more stuff. This sounds simple (just like “eat less” sounds simple), but it’s not easy.” – Tim Kastelle

So, off we go. Today!


Title photo by Ed Costello @ flickr: Paula Radcliffe at her NY Marathon world record, 2007, mile 14, still dynamic.

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