Improvement versus Innovation When Transforming Your Business

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How can you tell if you should just go after improvements, or if you should go after true innovation when transforming your business?

Susan M. Grotevant of the University of Minnesota says, “Old organizations, like old people can become set in their ways.” We tiptoe around innovation because it means getting rid of sacred cows, those projects, tasks, products and services we’ve been doing a long time but are no longer profitable, effective or efficient. Instead we settle for improvements, small tweaks that seem like we’re moving forward but really are a smokescreen to real transformation and business reinvention.

Improvement can be defined as small levels of change that have low risk, and typically start with an existing problem or process. There’s nothing wrong with gradual, consistent improvements, and the Kaizen philosophy of  change is being embraced all over the world.

But gradual improvements don’t allow for the type of creative thinking that starts with a clean slate, breakthrough thinking which helps innovate new ways of serving your customer and leapfrogging over your competitors.

Yes, innovation is riskier, but the rewards often outweigh those risks: greater revenue and profitability, thought leadership, and a bottom-up overhaul of how you serve your customers so you can serve them even better than ever.

Which strategy is better for your business reinvention? Both have their place in your strategic thinking, and your long-term goals will help you determine whether innovation or improvement is right for you. Don’t push away innovation because it feels to overwhelming or risky, though. You could be pushing away the future of your business.

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Category: Rethinking Your Business
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Learning to Tolerate the Ambiguity

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When reinventing our businesses, we’re often in a state of “not knowingness.” Questions swirl in your head:

  • What do I want to become?
  • What’s next for my business?
  • What do my customers want?
  • What’s the right path to take to reach my goals?

NOT having answers to these questions can make you feel restless, uncertain, and even fearful. But this state of not-knowingness is an important part of the cycle of business transformation, reinvention and growth. Instead of jumping in to choose an answer — any answer — try finding comfort in this ambiguity.

Here’s why…

Sitting in the mystery of not-knowingness is a state of grace, a chance to ask all the important questions, a chance to reexamine your values and your personal goals as they relate to your business.

It also allows all sorts of creative ideas to percolate to the surface. If you jump at creating a set plan because you can’t stand to be in the not-knowingness, you’ll miss the opportunity for incredible options to come to your awareness.

And people who can tolerate uncertainty can also tolerate risk better. Being calm and staying centered when you don’t know the answers to the big questions will help you develop other important skills, like dealing with chaos and conflict.

Here’s the trick…

The trick is deciphering whether you’re staying in not-knowingness because you haven’t explored all the creative opportunities yet, or whether you’re staying in not-knowingness because it means you don’t have to make a decision — you stay in not-knowingness because it’s safe there and you get stuck there for a long, long time.

If you can never come up with answers to the big questions or you resist making a decision on those answers, you’re stuck. And the best way I know to get unstuck is a two-step process:

  1. Deciding to decide – make a commitment that you’re going to do serious work on the not-knowingness and that you will choose from among the options you come up with.
  2. Get together with trusted friends and colleagues, tell them the big questions for which you don’t yet have an answer, and brainstorm together some possible ideas.

Learning to be okay with ambiguity and not-knowingness can be a great springboard for the future of your business. This moment holds immense possibility for you to explore. But if you’re resisting the exploration or the making of decisions and taking action, get some help and support in the process.

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