Playing follow-the-leader doesn’t count as innovation


While sometimes defining “innovation” can be difficult at best, I often step back and determine what innovation isn’t.

Innovation isn’t and never has been following the leader of the herd. That doesn’t mean that following is always the wrong approach; it just can’t be put into the category of innovation. 

I often ask myself, why is it that most newsmedia companies have such a difficult time with innovation? I have several theories as to why this might be the case, the first being that we spend all our efforts following those at the head of the herd we view as successful. The only problem with the herd mentality is that we presume we know what success is, because we are basing it on our own leaders.

W. Chan Kim said, “To grow, companies need to break out of the vicious cycle of competitive benchmarking and imitation.” Our industry is rife with the herd mentality; we seek to mimic those few successes and build five-year plans patterned after today’s successes. When we do that, five years from now we will be where they were five years ago. Hardly a recipe for success!

Recently I was reading a magazine piece featuring Seth Godin, one of the world’s most renowned and innovative thinkers and marketers. While he had some very profound statements as it relates to innovation, those statements or words ring even louder when we apply or attach them to our industry.

Godin said: “This is an essay about what it takes to create and sell something remarkable. ... It is a plea for originality, passion, guts, and daring. You cannot be remarkable by following someone that is remarkable.” I guess that rules out the herd mentality when we are discussing innovation.

He goes on to say: “One way to figure out a theory is to look at what’s working in the real world and determine what the successes have in common. ... But what could the Four Seasons and Motel 6 possibly have in common?  ... Or Neiman-Marcus and Walmart, both growing during the same decade? Or Nokia (bringing out new hardware every 10 days) and Nintendo (marketing Gameboy for 14 years in a row)? It’s like trying to drive while looking in the rearview mirror. The thing that all these companies have in common is they have nothing in common. They are outliers. They’re on the fringes. Super-fast or super-slow. Very exclusive or very cheap. Extremely big or extremely small. The reason it is so hard to follow the leader is this: The leader is the leader precisely because he did something remarkable. And that remarkable thing is now taken — so it is no longer remarkable when you decide to do it.”

In Wayne Rankin’s book, “Wide Angle Vision,” he speaks of the four things that will determine or indicate the future of a successful company. They are simply disgruntled customers, off-the-scope competitors, rogue employees, and fringe suppliers.

Those four ingredients can lead us to the promised land of innovation. It isn’t rocket science. It is simply breaking away from the herd in calculated ways and looking for ways to meet the demands of our customers and through the lens of the customers, then utilising the knowledge and tools of competitors, rogue employees, and suppliers to create our own innovation nirvana.

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