Be bold and stare down failure

by on April 18, 2013

Don't be afraid to think creatively and take chances.

Over the last year I’ve been reading a lot about disruption. I’ve read Clayton Christensen’s book, The Innovator’s Dilemma and I’m reading Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation by James McQuivey. I’ve seen several speakers too who have addressed this idea of innovation and one thing is clear, innovation demands bold thinking and the ability to look past failures and see them as valuable learning opportunities.

In his book, McQuivey talks about how disruptors have this philosophy built into their company DNA. Instead of running from failure, they boldly try new ideas and if they fail they use it as feedback to modify and redistribute.

And McQuivey says it’s not just startups and small companies that need to be thinking this way, it’s mid-size and large enterprises too. They have to adapt to thinking digitally or risk getting disrupted –and this is true regardless if your business is analog or digital.

McQuivey also describes what he calls barrier-based thinking in his book, which prevents people from imagining what’s possible. Instead of taking risks, these companies have a culture of inertia. They encourage status-quo thinking and tend to dismiss creative ideas

In a speech last month at the AIIM conference, author Seth Godin said, “We need to understand where our biases lie.” What he meant was that we have to be aware of stale thinking that prevents us from seeing new possibilities and ways of working.

Godin said we had moved from capitalism where businesses weren’t afraid to take risks to industrialism where the dominant thinking is to play it safe. But when you play it safe, you leave yourself wide open for disruption.

In the Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen wrote that companies get disrupted because they are forced to develop ever more complex products to justify their price tag and placate their best customers. But while they’re doing this, smaller, leaner, more creative players are coming in underneath and eroding their markets with simpler products. When the market sees there is a simpler, cheaper way to do something, the dominant player is dethroned.

For a mid-market company all of this means, you are probably just big enough that you have developed bureaucracies and business processes that have developed over time. In many instances, you’ve probably never even analyzed why you do a process the way you do — it’s probably out of habit more than efficiency.

Product development probably also follows the same, lazy safe path. All of these experts have argued that in order to succeed in the hyper-fast market changes of the 21st century, you need to develop an innovator’s mindset. You need to think creatively and you need to find new ways to help your customers achieve their goals — and not simply recreate the same product your competitors are making.

As Godin said in his AIIM speech, “What we don’t need is yet another bird in the flock doing it the same way.” You need to find ways to differentiate yourself in a crowded market marked by rapid change.

Nobody suggests that transforming your company’s politics and mindset and its core way of doing business is an easy proposition, but if you do nothing, chances somebody with a whole lot of digital savvy is gunning for you right now — and just might pass you by before you even knew what hit you.

Photo Credit: JWPhotography2012 on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 Share Alike/Attribution license.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Amolo April 23, 2013 at 3:06 am

Thanks for your great advice. I blog about my failures as an artist and that way I can make something out of them

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