As leadership speakers often point out, in a world of ongoing unpredictability and disruption, the challenge for businesses and working professionals isn’t simply finding new ways to innovate and stay relevant. It’s successfully creating solutions for doing so on a consistent basis. Enter the concept of sustainable innovation – putting a sustainable framework in place for bringing your workforce’s full range of insights and capabilities to bear to stay at the forefront of changing business environments.
Necessary a process as putting effective business processes and resources in place that set the stage for sustainable innovation to take root is though, what leaders may be surprised to note is that creating sustainable innovation also requires fundamentally rethinking corporate culture. That’s because, like many leadership speakers and experts can tell you, creating a framework for sustainable innovation often requires a radical change in mindset from traditional management models. Providing employees with the latitude to prototype new approaches to doing business, and assume informal leadership roles, hasn’t been a historical priority for organizations. But in today’s increasingly volatile and disruptive business world, this need for growing empowerment, and the changes in operational thinking it brings, has increasingly becoming one out of necessity.
Consider that as researchers at IBM have studied the modern business world, they’ve discovered something quite telling: Day-to-day operations no longer fall into static or predictable patterns—in their words, continuous change is the new normal. Today, several years since these findings were published, the concept is also more normal than new.
Moreover, researchers also found that leading innovators manage change up to 10X more effectively than those less skilled at adapting to disruptive environments. Clearly, our ability to manage the supposedly “unmanageable” has a huge impact on our enterprise’s potential as well.
Noting this, the more we create a corporate culture that’s agile and adaptable to change, the more we put ourselves in a position to succeed. And the research is clear: The organizations that are empowering employees to speak up, take decisive action, and change strategies in time with changing environments are all increasingly dominating in the field of business.
If you want to follow in their footsteps though, and create a system of sustainable innovation, the beauty is that you don’t have to think big. You can always start by thinking small instead. Remember that evolutionary change, and slight shifts in thinking, can be every bit as powerful as revolutionary change as well.
The reason so many business are striving to achieve sustainable innovation is that all it takes is one person, and one idea, to transform the shape of an enterprise. For example:
- Just a few years ago, unexpected weather delays and missed connections would have left millions of United Airlines passengers stranded. Hundreds of employees and hours of calls would’ve been required to get them back on track. Then, a passenger asked a customer service rep a simple question: If you knew I’d be late, why couldn’t you have just rerouted me in advance? Today, having brought the suggestion to management’s attention, an automated rebooking system tracks delays and cancelations and reroutes passengers to their end destination in seconds – while they’re still in flight.
- At online lodging service AirBNB, workers are encouraged to ship new features on day one. A designer who changed one icon from a star to a heart increased customer engagement by 30 percent and inspired the creation of a “Wish List” product.
- And at FedEx, which has 330,000 employees, a 40-person team is charged with driving game-changing innovations. Because of all the innovations single individuals can produce, leaders are doing everything they can to incite employees to speak up, take action, and routinely reconsider how they do business and create value for the organization.
As you can see, and leadership speakers often note, achieving sustainable innovation isn’t about having more resources – it’s about being more resourceful. And it’s not about being a genius. It’s about being ingenious as well. As more organizations are waking up and realizing: The less you ask employees to think like employees, and more you ask them to think like owners and entrepreneurs, the more you’ll constantly be able to vault yourself ahead of rivals, and succeed on a running basis.
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