Innovation is Evolution

All Things Need Evolution to Live and Grow

Many companies feel that innovation programs, innovation labs, and other innovation initiatives are great in good times, but are superfluous in tough times. The number of times I’ve heard that firms are axing or “re-purposing” their innovation personnel to work on “core product” or “core services” when times are tough, are legion.

Too often, however, the refocusing on the core business in a time when trouble is striking doesn’t turn things around – it simply accelerates the death spiral. You need to evolve out of the crisis.

Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true: when times are tough is when you need innovation most.  It may all be down to a misconception of what “innovation” is. In my view, innovation is corporate evolution, a natural change, and revision of an organism to survive new environments.

With the advent of new technology shifts like chatbots, AI, robotics, drones and autonomous vehicles, economic shifts like the gig economy, job loss through automation, and sociological shifts like hyperconnected social media driven humans and customers who have audiences of audiences, no one can say that we are not moving into new, unexpected, and unusual environments.

The prevailing wisdom is that innovation is a “future” thing, not a “now” thing, and we need to survive the “now”. It’s not core to the business, it’s a waste of money since it attempts to move resources away from the core profit engine of the business. Still, the question remains, if your core business is doing well and is profitable, so profitable in fact that you need to focus more resources on it, then why are you having trouble? Why are these hard times affecting you?

There is a popular myth that our bodies renew themselves every 7 years. Over that time, our cells die and are replaced with new ones. In actuality, some of our cells last our entire lifetime (like brain cells) and others only last a few days. Most of our body renews itself, continually, all the time. Life is never a static, steady state. There is always change and evolution. This is how life works, and growth comes from that.

Sometimes it renews itself on its own when old cells simply die. Other times, cells die due to outside forces, and the body is triggered to renew those cells. In any case, this dying off and renewal is key to growth. One could almost say that the body is in a constant state of evolution (even at a low level).

Similarly, your firm goes through the same kind of process – it is born when it is founded, and as it develops products, services, customers, and revenue, it must change and grow. Sometimes it changes slowly due to internal factors, and other times it changes quickly when it needs to pivot to stay alive.  Like the human body, parts of it too die (such as when employees leave, initiatives are shut down or when customers stop using a product), and new programs, initiatives and products replace the old.

This change is evolution. This change is innovation. Innovation is not a superfluous program which can be cut when times are tight, but a key core aspect of the very forces required to keep a company afloat. Innovation is not only found in the new or the “future” but in new ways to optimize and prioritize the now.  Innovation can trigger reductions in cost, improvements in profits and revenues, and unearth new sources of income and savings you never knew were there.

Interestingly enough, some of the most effectively innovative ideas will not come from looking to the future and to startups in your space, but from your own employees. If you are looking for innovative ideas to enhance your revenues and cut costs, the most likely source is internal.

While it may be counterintuitive, tough times are exactly when you need to innovate most. The only downside is that by the time you need to innovate and evolve, it may be too late. As some say, “you need to prepare for war in a time of peace”, in other words – good times or bad – you need to continually evolve and innovate.