Perpetual Innovation: What to do to stay relevant after getting the proverbial t-shirt…

In an ever-changing world, it has become increasingly important for businesses to also change with the times and to continuously innovate, both to remain relevant and to keep their doors from shutting. This article explores some of the most important elements to bear in mind for the survival of a company, by drawing on the work of Teresa Amabile from the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School.

According to Teresa, the following four elements are critical to the survival of a company:

Expertise

Teresa maintains that the creativity one needs to innovate, stems from having expertise in a particular field. Although having talent also plays a big role in one’s level of expertise, it further relies on a combination of education, work experience, professional development, mastering of technical skills and learning complimentary, new ones. It comes as no surprise that there is always room for improvement when starting on a journey to become the best in your field.

An Imaginative Perspective

Although creative and original thinking comes naturally to some, it is encouraging to know that it is a manner of thinking that one could learn and hone through practice. Creativity is part and parcel of innovation, through allowing one to perceive problems and challenges in unique, potentially rewarding ways. According to “Diaminds: Decoding the Mental Habits of Successful Thinkers” by Roger Martin (2009) [correct spelling of the title]: “The successful thinker is an integrator who can quickly and effectively abstract the best qualities of radically different ways of seeing and representing; in doing so, that person develops ‘a better lens’ on the bewildering phenomenon we call the ‘world.’” Our thoughts are developed through constantly repeating thought patterns (which eventually becomes habitual thinking). One’s mind is also geared towards finding the fastest ways of processing information (Daniel Kahneman (2011), “Thinking Fast and Slow”) and therefore relies on habitual thought patterns for convenience. This consequently leads to cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias, for example, which refers to the often unconscious act of drawing on only those perspectives that fit with our pre-existing views, while simultaneously ignoring or dismissing any opinions that threaten the ways in which we view the world. This means that, by being open to new ways of thinking and actively trying to change the ways in which you  perceive and understand things, you will start to develop new neural pathways for new thought patterns – this in turn could lead to innovative, game-changing ideas.

Industriousness

One should never underestimate the value of hard work. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, centres on the notion that it takes approximately 10 000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert in one’s field. This widely cited statistic has been somewhat blown out of the water by a recent Princeton study (“Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions - A Meta-Analysis”, 2014) which found that practice makes only one percent of a difference in performance in professional fields. In Frans Johansson's book "The Click Moment”, he argues that deliberate practice is only a useful predictor of success in the kinds of fields that have very stable structures, such as chess or classical music. Entrepreneurship, as most small business owners know very well, is downright unpredictable at the best of times. The lead author of the mentioned Princeton research explains that: There is no doubt that deliberate practice is important, from both a statistical and a theoretical perspective. It is just less important than has been argued."It is therefore believed that mastery consists of more than just a great deal of practice. Given the research, in the context of entrepreneurship (which is dynamic in nature), hard work does not necessarily mean repeating the same idea over and over again until you one day become hyper successful at it, but rather refers to a constant pursuit of innovation, whether it be through constantly keeping updated on new trends, actively going out to seek new opportunities and persevering despite adversity.

The Right Motivator

Finally, Teresa believes that one needs to be motivated by the right things in order to become a successful innovator. Her work has indicated that being interested in and deriving enjoyment and satisfaction from one’s work, while at the same time being driven by the challenges presented by it, fosters greater creativity than placing the focus on external- motivators, goals or pressures. This implies that “following your passion” instead of doing something for the sake of satisfying others or for the purpose of making money will have a greater chance of leading to innovative ideas and successful ventures.

These elements are discussed at a high level, but touch on some of the most important factors to bear in mind when assessing ways in which you can start to do things differently to the benefit of yourself and your business. Continuous innovation will ensure that your business does not stagnate, when implemented through well thought through plans. Further bear in mind that innovation requires hard work and will not necessarily occur overnight. You have to ensure that you stay ahead of the curve by keeping informed on the trends occurring in the industry, who your competitors are and what you can do to develop an edge in the market.

Follow this link to read more on the Princeton study: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/06/30/0956797614535810.abstract