Digitization, Transformation, Industry 4.0, Blockchain, AI, New Work. Many companies have understood that changes are happening faster and faster and that they can no longer rest on their laurels. And yet they are often overwhelmed by the chaotic jungle of buzzword bingo. The initial cluelessness becomes caution, powerlessness, stagnation. The risks of the new, the unknown are too big. Fresh ideas could fail on the market and endanger the enterprise. The unknown causes a state of fear from a biological point of view. Our brain constantly compares all impressions and realizes change as a threat. The result: you prefer to stay with the tried and tested - you know it, it works, you've always done it that way.
With new ideas you stumble into the darkness like in the forest at night without seeing where the path might lead. Congratulations, you are just about to discover new territory! Innovations are not an incalculable risk, quite the opposite. The setting of budgets, deadlines and required resources provide a framework within which ideas can move freely. So you always have the worst case in mind.
But how do you calculate the risk of a standstill? How great is the risk if the company does not develop further? We call it negative lottery play. Every day you pick a lottery ticket and hope for a blank. Daily fingers crossed in the hope that no startup will be born that makes your own offer obsolete.
If you look back into the past, the probability of this should not be underestimated. Synthetic rubber, light bulbs, disposable diapers, digital cameras, cars - innovations that have overtaken entire industries. At first nobody sees them coming, then they are fought until it is too late. It doesn't matter whether it's coachmen against cars, the taxi industry against Uber, people against AI, radio against television against streaming. Innovations build up like a big wave and cannot be stopped. And yet threatened industries are resisting it like a rock, being removed layer by layer until they finally collapse. So wouldn't it be more lucrative to be the wave yourself? To attack yourself before someone else does? Why waste energy on something that's unstoppable anyway? Innovations will always prevail, because innovation means the introduction and acceptance of something new into the market. The customer accepts new ideas because they bring added value that did not exist before.
A prime example of cannibalization is Netflix. It has been in use since 1997 as an online video store - rent DVDs, watch them, send them back. Business was good and Netflix could have leaned back. Wait until a threatening competitor appears. But instead, their own core business was repeatedly questioned. Instead of DVDs there were later downloads. When the Internet became faster and faster, streaming came. Would you have been so brave? Or would you have stayed with your acquaintance? In the comfort of the old country?
Of course nobody says that you have to endanger your company and completely rely on All-In. Innovations can also improve your existing product, extend it or just produce something completely new and make the old redundant. Innovation does not mean revolution.
With incremental innovations, you improve existing products and secure your cash flow. New business models are considered and tested with semi-radical innovations. The carsharing model is only an extension of an existing business model. With DriveNow, BMW is expanding its market and addressing a new target group. Young people who can't afford their own car because they hardly want to use it anyway or don't want to deal with insurance, inspections, repairs and overhauls.
The so-called game changers, which entail changes in their entire market environment, are rarer and much more difficult to produce. However, they create an immense competitive advantage for a certain period of time. Kodak had such a game changer - the invention of the digital camera by an internal engineer. But Kodak shied away from the risk. An attack on its own core business? Completely unthinkable, the sale of analog films generated too much profit. The race was won by others.
To stay in the market, companies must balance all three pillars and create meaningful resources. Incremental innovation secures income and creates money for larger, more radical solutions to position themselves at the forefront of competition.
To achieve this, it is worth bringing strong designers into your own company who work customer-centered and can adapt to the constantly changing needs of these. New people bring with them disturbances, frictions that are essential for new ideas. Designers have different perspectives on the problem, bring with them different experiences, curiosity and sometimes a lack of knowledge. Yes, not knowing. They are not stuck in certain processes and question every step, take nothing for granted.
Good designers are problem solvers who approach the challenge step by step. They observe and try to understand the true customer needs. Henry Ford had already understood at the time:
"If I had asked people, they would have wished for faster horses".
Customers only want what they already know. So how could Ford's customers want a car if they don't even know it? However, Ford recognized their need to get from A to B safely and as quickly as possible.
Creative and innovative solutions are created by observing, understanding, grasping, developing ideas, prototypes, tests and iterations. The right strategy makes innovations calculable and safe. Too many companies throw the child into the forest in the hope that it will survive on its own. All or not at all. But ideas need space to grow, to change and to develop close to the customer.
Innovations are not magic that are reserved only for the big players or start-ups. Anyone can produce ideas, be creative and accompany their company into the future with innovations. So don't wait, become a designer yourself.
Think beyond creative. Stay creative.