Typing to swiping…
Bricks to clicks and typing to swiping - innovating in an established business
A much used phrase in the early 2000s, ‘Bricks to clicks’ said a lot about how older companies were beginning to recognise the importance of establishing a presence within the growing ranks of online service and e-commerce websites. Perhaps more relevant now is how an established business can cater to smartphone and tablet users - clicking and typing has become ‘tapping and swiping’.
However the challenges involved in facilitating change in a ‘business with history’ are the same as ever they were - no business can stand still. Where in the 1990s and early 2000s the internet and the increased availability of affordable PCs and laptops fundamentally altered the way businesses interact with their customers, now it’s the abundance of smartphones and the growing use of tablets that is once again challenging accepted conventions, and forcing businesses to question their strategies for interfacing with customers.
In 2000, an established business was likely one with actual shops. Their growing challenge involved competing with the new breed of online retailers without shops and consequently with lower overheads. John Lewis survived and prospered, HMV has struggled and many others have fallen by the wayside. Those same upstart companies who frightened the established ‘brick’ businesses then, are in many cases the ones who are facing challenges from new upstarts now. The need to innovate was ever thus - never ending. Languishing on one’s laurels has always been the start of a businesses demise and never more so than now when the commerce and service landscape changes so quickly, and on such unpredictable tangents.
Through my career, I’ve been fortunate to work in both cutting edge new media businesses and established companies with an enlightened sense and understanding of their goals and competition. There are however many companies who have recently recognised their imminent problems and predictable demise late in the day. These are the companies that need to, and in many cases are addressing their shortcomings by engaging in visioning and innovation as a means of catching and where possible overtaking their competition.
Where a culture of innovation is not baked into the soul of a company, there are many obstacles to overcome in establishing the innovation process of insight, problem acceptance, solution visioning, prototyping, trialling, assessment and graduation. These obstacles are born in the bed of comfort; they mature in the comfort of inertia, and then grow insurmountable as the tide of denial sweeps in. These obstacles are simple to identify yet hard to overcome, but when overcome, progress can be swift and the results empowering for a business in many ways.
Obstacles standing in the way of innovation:
1. Insight - Understand the problem.
Not knowing there is a problem doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, yet many people in older businesses don’t see the importance of understanding their customer’s needs. Customer insight is the starting point for all innovation, yet where there is no recognition of the importance of evidence in decision making, there will be a consequent lack of interest in generating and employing insight. Get people interested in surveys and metrics, then identify a small number of KPIs and track them. When everyone shares the same KPIs, a business or team can move forward together.
2. Problem acceptance - Accept the problem exists.
Once you have the insight and recognise there’s a problem, you have to accept it. We’re bad at this generally as it’s essentially admitting a failure, however accepting something is wrong, broken or flawed is essential if we’re to fix it. If the insight says there’s a problem, there likely is.
3. Solution visioning - Identify solutions to the problem.
Now we know what the problem is, we need to identify potential solutions. A culture of ‘can’t do’ or ‘too hard’ will hinder progress here, however employing cross functional teams with representation from all areas of the business to identify one or more solutions will move things on quickly. The right solution can often come from the most unlikeliest contributor so recognise that everyone’s ideas and views are valid.
4. Prototyping - Make or build the solution.
Whether it’s a new process or a product, in order to test a solution, we need a prototype. The biggest hurdle I’ve found in the past is in the business not allocating resource to prototyping. Whether its cash for outsourcing or ring fencing a percentage of key resource, without that commitment, a prototype isn’t going to be forthcoming. It’s where I find most frustration develops. You know what the problem is and you know how to fix it, but can’t get the resource to finish the job. Often it may require a high level view of the likely return on the investment of building a prototype, however in more enlightened organisations, innovation or invention prototyping stands on it’s own as pure research and development. Remember that in most cases, R&D can be declared and written off against a companies tax liability, so remember that a business case detailing a positive return on investment shouldn’t be seen as the only justification for committing resource to prototyping.
5. Trialling - Testing the solution.
This is where the doubt sets in and people get cold feet. Is the solution the right one? What will customers think of it? Will it hurt the business. Whilst at eBay, some of the smartest people I worked with agonised over decision making for months when the correct answer would present itself in verifiable data after a short live trial. No theory, no guesswork, just empirical evidence to support a decision one way or the other. Testing the solution prototype is fundamental - think of it as added insight. Testing with small numbers of customers in a controlled fashion is often the best way to go, but enough people have written about the value and procedures for A-B testing and I shan’t go into it here.
6. Assessment - Assessing the success of the solution.
Once the trial is completed, you need to assess the results. This can take us back to stage 1 of the process of innovation - looking at the insight. Get people excited about this stage of the process - it’s the point at which ideas and decisions are vindicated and should be the most exciting part of the process. Whilst it can present the ugly truth that the solution was wrong or the implementation flawed, it will tell you what you do next…
7. Graduation - Do you deploy, modify, rebuild or kill the solution?
Perhaps the solution was right first time, perhaps it needs modifying slightly to improve the results, maybe it will need another trial to validate any changes. If the prototype was built quickly in order to test a concept, perhaps it will need rebuilding to make it more fit for purpose, or perhaps there is no future for this particular solution and the team needs to recognise this and move on, perhaps restarting the process. Whatever the decision, whether it is graduation to a full time part of the businesses operations, or an ignominious footnote in the company history, the process of innovation has run it’s course and every outcome should be seen as a positive. Not doing something when the decision is founded on insight and experience is as successful an outcome as using a proven solution for all your customers’ benefit.
Identify these obstacles in your organisation and choose the path you’ll use to negotiate them. Innovation should be part of every businesses thinking and practice, but it’s important to understand why and how you’re going to do it. From the outset, it’s important that everyone understands it may be ‘throw-a-way’ work, but start from that position and you’ll be managing peoples expectations appropriately.
Every business is in effect an established business when it comes to innovation, and so it’s important to remember that insight and innovating should be seen as an essential part of every businesses strategy and day to day practice. Without it, complacency, stagnation and contraction will likely ensue…
© Ian Jordan, i is for insight