Among the most frequently-cited topics in the business world today
is strategic innovation. Business leaders often wonder how to deal with change
management since the world is constantly in flux and everything is changing at
a brisk pace –including markets, best practices and customer expectations. The
challenge: It often seems that as soon as we wrap our heads around one new idea
as an enterprise, it changes shape, or something completely new comes down the
creek and we’re left reeling. So how can we as modern professionals possibly
stay ahead of the curve in a world, and commercial marketplace, that moves this
quickly? The answers may be simpler than you think.
Ironically, most any enterprise can see where trends are headed
long before they come down the pike, as new technologies, tools and events
impact the marketplace. Rather than simply spot what’s coming next though, the trick
is rather to have the good sense to prepare yourself to surf the tidal waves of
change coming your way. Start by implementing processes, platforms and
people-centric solutions that allow you to stay abreast of rising trends and
topics, then proactively develop, implement and test new methodologies,
products and services to address these emerging areas of concern. From there,
observe the responses prompted by these solutions and react, iterating
accordingly as you go. That makes it a bit easier to adapt. Ultimately, it pays
to be proactive: It’s wiser to stock a fire extinguisher on-hand before the roof
catches flame then finding yourself having to sprint for one while the house is
burning down around you.
While such observations may sound trite, the challenge is that
successfully addressing and adapting to strategic innovation requires
implementing a culture of participation – not necessarily the type of culture
built into most Industrial Age organizations. But it’s key to remember that
executives, managers and front line employees alike seldom have trouble
spotting emerging innovations. More often, troubles surround their ability to
successfully communicate these opportunities and challenges to upper
management, and obtain the organizational buy-in needed to quickly and
concisely respond to these potential hazards. As a business leader, to succeed,
it’s important to think of change management as an ongoing, not occasional,
activity that should be ingrained in any enterprise from day one.
Organization-wide, you need to open yourself up to the possibility of change
instead of steeling yourself against it, and both flatten lines of
communication and optimize leadership, decision-making and action-based
hierarchy to allow for flexible and powerful responses to rising areas of
Many leaders harbor an inherent fear of or resistance to change,
partially because we’re afraid that the move we make might not be the right
one. However, if we want to succeed, it’s vital to note that freezing up is not
an option – if the path is constantly shifting in front of us, doing so is
tantamount to hitting cruise control while steering headlong off the road.
Strategic innovation requires that you constantly be trying, failing and
learning from mistakes – market-leading products, services and organizations
are seldom born fully matured. All develop over time, as further experience,
information and insight is gained, allowing us to make better and more informed
The key here: Decision makers need to make decisions, even if they
don’t have perfect information. Even the most successful organizations and
managers in the world are never 100 percent sure how outcomes will play out –
and sometimes, they’re even aware that first attempts may well be disastrous.
As Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously stated, “No
good plan survives first contact with the enemy.” In other words, the
second that you hit the battlefield, every variable can change. So to succeed,
you need to be prepared to meet those potential changes, and respond in kind.
To this extent, you need to experiment, prototype, gain hands-on learning and –
whether speaking from an organizational or personal level – constantly be
striving to acquire the experience, skills, contacts, insights and connections
that will help diversify and strengthen your outlook as a result of each
successive attempt. So long as you’re doing so strategically and in measured,
cost-effective fashion with an eye towards eventual success, short-term failure
can actually pave the way to success. In the same way that early prototype
versions of high-tech products lead to polished end products, so too can
nascent leadership strategies and approaches eventually grow into powerful ways
of addressing developing topics and trends.
From a broad level, it pays to encourage employees to speak up and
contribute, open channels of communication, and create incubators within any
given organization. Make sure that leaders at all levels can communicate with
one another and share ideas. Keep up with emerging trends, and once you have a
better idea of what’s coming down the pike, you can prototype with new
strategies, new products, and new processes designed to piggyback on or steer
safely clear of them. And ultimately, keep your organization’s end goals in
mind – you can lose individual battles, but still win the war. Don’t be afraid
of failures, as long as they’re measured, strategic, and cost-effective – after
all, said failures are the best way to learn.
Certainly, when managing change, it pays to have back-up plans.
But you’ve also got to keep experimenting with new approaches, and leave yourself
enough headroom to maneuver as new feedback and information is gained. You
don’t need an industry prophet, fortune teller or high-powered management consultant
to realize the secret… Constant motion and flexibility are how you stay ahead
of the curve.
speaker Scott Steinberg is a bestselling expert on leadership and
innovation, and the author of Make Change Work
for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed
Despite Uncertainty. Among today’s leading providers of keynote speeches, workshops and seminars for Fortune 500 firms, his website is www.AKeynoteSpeaker.com.