Innovation is more than the big ideas

Grow or die has been the mantra for business success for a long time. But in the 21st Century, innovate or die may be the new watchword.

With its connection to high-tech applications and cheaper, faster and better consumer goods and services, innovation is on everyone’s mind and, apparently, in their online viewing history. A quick Google search of the word “innovation” generates almost 2 billion hits – in just over a half second.

The idea of innovation – or more precisely, the ideal – has become part of the business community’s DNA and the search for new ways to do old things and new ways to do new things is almost an obsession.

 But it’s time to stop obsessing so much on innovation and focus on its implications.

We talk about innovation in almost reverential terms, calling to mind milestones such as the printing press or microchips – something bold, disruptive and these days with a dash of high-tech.

But the glittering vision of new technology can make us forget that not all innovation has to be on a grand scale. Build a better mousetrap, the saying goes, and the world will beat a path to your door. While a better device may not land you on a magazine cover it is still an innovation.  

We have set our expectations for innovation so high that only those “disruptors” who garner millions of followers on Twitter and Facebook are seen as true innovators, while the rest of us are mere tinkerers.

But good things do sometimes come in small packages and those smaller steps forward, the incremental improvements and perfections, are as innovative as the creation of a new microchip or attention-grabbing app.

The ascension of innovation to the premier spot on lists of how to succeed in business raises an important question. What does all this innovation mean for everybody else?

It means companies have to adapt to those new products or services and take the next step beyond innovation: Evolution.

Over the past year and a half businesses in the region and around the world were forced to adapt to the realities of a pandemic. Some did not survive. But all were faced with an existential crisis that required a response. The old way of doing business was no longer possible so companies were forced to evolve.

Businesses retooled their production lines to supply urgently needed materials, including sanitizer and personal protective equipment. Others shifted to contactless transactions or offered carry out options for customers. Some businesses innovated. All businesses evolved one way or another.

Taking off the blinders of the innovate-or-die mentality can help business owners see the broader landscape – the proverbial 50,000-foot view – and take the necessary and nimble steps to compete in a changing marketplace and succeed. Innovation turns ideas into a solution, but it’s time for businesses to think smaller and join the evolution.