March 08, 2011

Topic: Management & Leadership

Shoot! We didn't think about that

If you’re not failing, you’re not trying. That might be a little strong, but if you or your company are not coming up with new ideas and trying new things that sometimes fail, you’re probably not moving fast enough to win in today’s business world. You have to change to improve.

I personally come up with a lot of new ideas. The problem is, only half of them are good. I leave it up to the folks I work with to figure out which half are the good ones (they all seem great to me!). At a recent meeting when I mentioned this, eyes rolled, questioning whether my "half right" claim was a bit too generous.

 Of course, it is good to be cautious of new ideas if there is too big of a cost in being wrong or there is a potentially significant negative impact on your clients. But be wary of being cautious simply because you’re afraid of being wrong. This can be an ego issue, especially for a perfectionist like me. Also, it’s very common for detail-oriented people to be unwilling to pull the trigger as they get caught up in "analysis paralysis." 

To move forward at today’s required pace, you have to accept that you may not have every scenario or bug worked out in advance. You have to get comfortable with the fact that something could pop up and force you to admit, "We didn’t think about that." Think of a company like Facebook. It continuously makes changes to adjust to trends, competition, and user feedback. It is structured in a way to have the leadership and talent in place to quickly implement new initiatives. Facebook admits it doesn’t try to think of everything imaginable right out of the chute, and feels that just getting things pushed out to its users (and then dealing with the ramifications) is a better model to follow. Now, that may mean handling lawsuits, such as when it changed privacy settings, but it works for the company and has allowed it to see ridiculous growth and success.

When I think of innovation and change, I typically think of something Web-based like Facebook or revolutionary new products like the iPod and iPad, but I find evolutionary innovation to be more common and applicable to most businesses. Netflix originally seemed revolutionary, but it was just a new delivery channel (U.S. mail) of an existing product (rental DVD). But interestingly, even as it has come to dominate the DVD rental market with this innovation, it has begun to evolve again, using the Web as its primary delivery channel.

For most businesses, change and innovation look more like this. How can you deliver a product or service in a way that is better – faster, more convenient, or less expensive – for an established client base?

 You may have heard the saying "innovate or die." This has been attributed to a CNET.com story called "Innovate or die on the Net" that originally ran in 1996. Fifteen years later, it’s not just technology companies that need to innovate, it’s everyone. As the saying goes, "If you do the same things you’ve always done, you’ll get the same results you’ve always gotten." Try something new. You just might succeed ... or fail. Either way, you learn, grow, and improve.


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