A company I used to work for would talk frequently about being innovative and forward thinking. Indeed I think it was one of the values they had in their mission statement and pinned up around the office, which is nice. The problem was however that when it actually came to being innovative and forward thinking, the benchmark with which they would compare themselves would be others in their industry.
Now you may say that this in itself is not a bad thing. After all, if your industry is already very forward thinking then being the best of the best is not a bad place to be, although even this isn\’t fail safe (more on this later). A major problem emerges however if your industry is very staid and traditional, and therefore being the best of this particular bunch is really not something to shout about, much less aspire to.
\”The future has already happened, it’s just unequally distributed.” William Gibson
How to hunt the future
The quote above is from acclaimed science fiction writer William Gibson, and it nicely sums up how innovation often occurs. Very few of the great changes to society seen over the last few decades have been truly new innovations. W. Brian Arthur in his excellent book on the nature of technology, reveals how most of our current technology has occurred as a series of evolutionary steps, each building on work done elsewhere.
So the chances are, the innovations that will fundamentally change your industry aren\’t taking place in your industry. The things that will be driving best practice in your organisation are taking place in disparate places.
The innovators dilemma
This is the case even if you operate in an industry that is renowned for being innovative and creative. Clayton Christensen summed up the situation nicely in his famed book The Innovators Dilemma. It describes how organisations that achieve dominance in a field, then have incredible difficulty implementing the kind of innovations that will disrupt that success. Executives garnished with success tend to use the same things that gave them that success and are loathe to attack the very babies they helped grow.
That\’s bad enough when applied in isolation, but when everyone is looking within their own industry for guidance, it risks afflicting an entire industry.
A social powered solution
Thankfully social business offers organisations a way out of this malaise. For you see social business allows organisations to open up the strategy making process. It allows you to bring employees from across your organisation into deciding where the company should go. It allows you to bring customers into the mix to share their thoughts on how you can serve them better.
It crucially allows you to bring individuals into the strategy forming process who have a huge stake in the future of your company. They’re the people who want to work for a thriving company and who want to gain promotions from delivering excellent products to market. They’re the customers that want to buy from a company they trust whilst continuing to get the best products on the market.
These are the people that should be setting your future. As Gibson said, the future is already out there providing you have the desire to hunt it down. That requires attention to be paid to nascent technologies, unconventional competitors and unserved customer groups.