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Innovate With Confidence, Not Buzzwords

Too many organizations resort to innovation theater, but the only real option is to replace buzzwords with action.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas Series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Thor Ernstsson will be speaking at IIeX North America (June 12-14 in Atlanta). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX NA. Click here to learn more.

By Thor Ernstsson

By now you’ve seen the stats: the average duration of a company being listed in the Fortune 500 has rapidly decreased over the past few decades. Innovate or die is the mantra, but what exactly does that mean?

Unfortunately, too many organizations resort to innovation theater – setting up labs, yelling at people to think faster, and slinging buzzwords for PR purposes and not for any genuine emphasis on delivering value to customers. Announcements in TechCrunch, casual dress codes, and sleek offices work for awhile, enabling the company to feel like they’re making progress…at least at first.

But it all eventually comes crashing down when people start taking a look at real outcomes…or even the bottom line. Even well-intentioned companies try, but many learn the same lessons as Blockbuster, Kodak, and RadioShack a bit too late.

The only real option is to replace buzzwords with action. It’s not easy and there is no magic to it either. Here are three quick examples:

  • “Customer centricity”: When organizations talk about returning to their roots and becoming ‘customer-centric,’ they often limit that to their marketing team instead of the core organization. However, customer centricity isn’t just a codeword for another re-org. It’s about a simple shift in mindset from focusing on internal capabilities to externally focusing on customers’ jobs-to-be-done.
  • “Intrapreneurship”: I’ve had dozens of former business leader tell me about ‘inspirational’ speeches Fortune 500 executives give where the key takeaway if for everyone to “just be more creative like Apple.” Intrapreneurship isn’t about willing a startup culture into existence. It takes a realignment of incentives, risk tolerances, and a safe space for experimentation.
  • “Fail fast”: This Silicon Valley mantra has backfired for many global organizations who tarnished their brands by launching tons of new, un-validated products. In reality, the emphasis shouldn’t be on failing fast, but on learning fast. Product and innovation teams need to learn to cut through the red tape to optimize for learning and get actionable customer feedback before investing resources in engineering solutions.

If you’re interested in shifting from buzzwords to actual results, come hear my talk at IIeX NA: How to cut through bullshit to build great products. I’m also excited to attend talks by Paul Field and Lisa Courtade.

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