May 10 2010
Looking back ten years, concepts such as Wikipedia, Google Maps, or iPods did not exist, but now they are all common words we speak or refer to daily.
As leaders, we face the tough decisions that can either create opportunity, growing concepts that give us a competitive advantage, or we can miss them, leaving things stagnant while others surge ahead. Sadly I have seen many senior executives fail to allocate the essential time needed to open dialogue for new ideas or concepts, and as a result they discover innovation from a competitor, rather than from their own employees.
For Organizational Success, Create the Time and Space to Consider New Ideas
To use an infamous example, Google allows their employees to spend a portion of their week seeking new ideas and concepts. Although an excellent policy, for most executives simply spending an extra minute amidst the hustle of the daily process to pursue new ideas, opportunities and risks can be mind altering.
As an example of such concepts consider these two scenarios. Both are taken from the same company, but the first is from an older leadership team who had been entrenched in the organization for some time, and the second from a new team open to fresh perspectives.
Scenario 1 - Not Hearing the Opportunities
A retail store that operated both physical and online stores was searching for opportunities to expand its business. Having had huge success with their brick and mortar stores, they continued to focus on what they knew best and began expanding; constantly believing that adding additional retail square footage would directly equal additional sales revenue.
An opportunity then arose to further enhance the entire chain's integration with their electronic commerce website at a much cheaper cost than rolling out a single store. However, the concept was disregarded each time it was suggested, as the senior executives in charge did not understand the idea of using the website when physical stores had been so successful. The question that was never asked was how could allowing stores access to the Internet equal sales?
Eventually business growth started to wane, and alternative means of enhancing the store experience using traditional methods were not successful.
Scenario 2 - Inspiring Investigation
A new leader takes the reins of the organization, and is presented with a demonstration regarding the store registers and their use in reporting sales. During the presentation the presenter loads up an internet browser to show part of the presentation. Prompting the leader to ask the simple question 'Can the Internet be accessed in the store?'. This resulted in a short discussion that quickly turned into a pilot demonstration of accessing the website and displaying remote reporting and electronic commerce in the stores directly. The company then installed internet capabilities at every point of sale in the store to offer additional and complimentary products to the customer, such as a size or type of item the store does not carry. This simple change provided a dramatic return over its initial investment.
All from asking if you can access the Internet.
One week later, inspired by the acceptance and support of a new idea, the team involved proposed a multitude of other options, knowing that the new leadership team had created an open platform in which they will be received. The company is now surging ahead and modernizing, coming from the curve they might just appear at the cutting edge themselves.
Both leaders took a risk in each scenario, but had remarkably different results. The first did not want to risk trying something they did not know and instead risked the company’s future on a tried-and-tested formula. The second simply listened to a new concept, saw potential, and backed the idea with the full support needed. With technology a concept can snowball quickly. But we must give each idea the full support it needs.
That which we do not understand, must be heard. You can make snowballs grow into mountains.
Willingness to hear about new technology or a bright new idea can inspire those around you to make snowballs capable of growing your business.
Time changes things
Realize that time changes how risky or difficult a new concept can be. Thirty years ago cell phones were an impossibility, imagine what cloud computing or what the future iPad can do for your customer or business.
Listen for, and entertain innovation, diamonds of opportunity rise from such dialogue. Never be too busy to miss it.
BlueSteps Executive Guest Writer
Ira Ham is technology leader with over 15 years of experience focusing on innovation, customer experience, and growth within information organizations. A proven integrator of complex solutions with a significant background in security, infrastructure and development processes to ensure long lasting and easy to use solutions are implemented within the organization. Connect with Ira on LinkedIn.
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