Innovation: Are you still doing things the way you did them two years ago?


It would be easy to get your attention by mentioning brands like Kodak and Nokia, which once dominated their market sectors, but have since been downgraded or simply disappeared. However, these examples might not illustrate my point as clearly as a simple smartphone app.

When I upgraded my smartphone recently, I decided not to just reinstall all my apps. The brand I use keeps a list of all the apps I’ve downloaded since my first smartphone eight years ago. I decided to flick through and install only those that I know I will use in the next month and download the others should the need arise.

It turns out most of the apps I decided to download were a maximum of two years old. If you don’t find this surprising, let me ask you a simple question: How many of your company’s products will be irrelevant two years from now?

More importantly, how are you currently reinventing your offerings to remain relevant?

If you find yourself tempted to dismiss the question because you operate in a mature market, where customers take your product more seriously than a mobile app, I hope the examples of Kodak and Nokia will convince you otherwise.

In the 20th century, innovation is critical. Take Uber for example. Uber is an excellent example of effective innovation and I’m not even talking about disrupting the taxi industry. Last week I got a mail from Uber announcing a new version of their app. I was curious because I was very happy with the current version. My curiosity was rewarded: on downloading the new version I realised Uber had anticipated what I really care about and delivered it without me even asking.

Effective innovation starts with strong, clear leadership and in a business environment, the direction of this leadership must be your customers.

As leaders, it is incumbent on us to inspire a culture where:

• People see the value of continually investing in themselves and the brand.
• People keep learning and pushing the boundaries.
• People think differently and anticipate customer needs.
• Communication channels are open for people to contribute.

This can’t be lip service, it requires a tangible and consistent example. Communication channels can be as formal as establishing platforms to share ideas or as simple as listening, respecting their opinion and checking in with them every once in a while.

While traditional customer satisfaction surveys ask customers to rate what management believes is important, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) invites customers to rate their loyalty to your brand and share what matters to them. Forward-thinking leaders use NPS feedback as a catalyst for innovation, encouraging their teams to look at the world through the eyes of their customers and see the products and services they should be building for the future.

At the TowerStone Leadership Centre we believe all employees are capable of contributing to effective innovation if they take their customer seriously. Through our accredited programmes we empower leaders to inspire this contribution. We believe this is not merely important, but critical for remaining relevant in a changing world. Perhaps this type of leadership could have helped Nokia anticipate a world where I’m dictating this article to my phone rather than typing it out on my laptop.

Not all employees will feel equally comfortable in a dynamic environment like this, but all employees will feel equally secure in an environment where they know they’re focusing on what really matters.

My seven-year-old came to investigate while I was dictating this article and when I told him the topic his curiosity shot back, “Why, Dad?”

I replied, “Imagine you were still doing things the same way you did two years ago?”

His response? “OK, that’s just crazy!”

Malcolm Ferguson is Academy Head at TowerStone, a Leadership Centre, which empowers leaders to build a values-driven culture for sustainable success. Visit: