Five thoughts on innovation

If you chose to read this article, my guess is that you are a tinkerer.  And it being a new year, I bet you’re itching to tweak things.  To make them better.

Bully for you! I’m all for improving. That being said, I’ve made a number of mistakes under the banner of innovation.  Innovation for the sake of innovation is hardly innovative.

Here are five ideas to keep in mind.

  1. Just what problem are we trying to fix? Innovation should fill a need. Scratch an itch. Fill a hole. Can you describe that itch with clarity? If there’s no clear problem, why the need for innovation?
  2. Opportunity risk. This is a term coined by economists that describes the costs of lost opportunities.  Perhaps there isn’t a clear problem that begs for innovation. Rather, it may be a new opportunity. So, while doing nothing prevents failure – it also blocks you from realizing new trails to revenue.
  3. Photocopy things that work. Your organization has a number of products and services. Which ones work best? Identify your winners, and see if you can apply the things that work there to your less popular offerings.
  4. Forest fires. On a recent visit to a national park, I was shocked and saddened to see that a large fire had swept through. A ranger told me she was pleased! Why? The fire freed up the forest. It removed brush and dead wood that had choked new growth. She predicted that the fire would end up strengthening the forest. Organizations are the same way. We employ resources based on last year’s plan, which often was based on the previous year’s plan. Legacy products and projects move forward. Killing off things that are dead, or nearly so, frees up time, money and attention to new areas.
  5. Nothing is forever. What if this (insert new idea) doesn’t work? It very well may not. Many things fail. The idea may stink. Or the execution may be flawed. But here’s the thing…you can always change your mind later. Coca-Cola comes up with New Coke. It was a disaster. They simply reversed course and moved on.

So, innovation can be killing something off. Or doing nothing. Or doing something new. Or changing course. It depends.  Which one is right for you?

Ah, there’s the rub. That one is on you.


Anthony Demangone

Anthony Demangone

Anthony Demangone is executive vice president and chief operating officer at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU). Demangone oversees day-to-day operations and manages the association’s education, membership, ... Web: Details