Innovation – often not welcomed but inevitable

My MacBook, bought 2013, starts to slowly but consequently shut down its organs. The problem is that I refused so far the friendly but persistent offers to upgrade to El Capitan operating system. I’m afraid that my picture management program, with 25,000 pictures from all my travels since 2006doesn’t work anymore with the upgrade. Apple stopped to support Aperture already in 2014. But now more and more programs and apps start to complain that my operating system is outdated. Some just complain, other don’t function anymore.

Do you know this feeling when something new forces itself into your life, and you don’t want it? I was very satisfied with Aperture, and in general with the performance of my MacBook. Sure, there was innovation happening in soft- and hardware since 2013, with nice, new gimmicks. Also, for data protection and security maybe an upgrade would be needed. I know this, but still…

Often innovation comes very powerful but against our desires and intentions. And often, not every new idea, not every thing called innovation is actually good and helpful. Hence, change and innovation is inevitable. So the question remains, how to we steer our life through change? How do YOU steer the organizations you are responsible for through change? How do you anticipate, detect, and evaluate the weak signs of future disruptions in your field? How do you actively thrive for innovation, for disruption yourself?

In my experience, those are easy questions to be asked by a consultant, or another “thinker” who is not involved into the daily business of an incumbent organization. In theory all is clear. It is clear that the customers of today are not the ones of tomorrow, it is clear that somewhere someone below the “detection limit” of classical analytical tools is preparing for the next disruption. But how to take the right decisions – towards strategy, budget, priorities – with all the needs and distractions of the business of today. The today’s business, the today’s clients and customers the today’s initiatives take all our energy and attention. So in the praxis of real business, we often act like I do with my postponed upgrade of my MacBook. We try to protect our comfortable and beloved little systems and processes – like I do with Aperture and my travel pictures. We try to avoid the pain of change, the hassle for adaption, the hassle to adjust to something new, the hassle to learn a new tool. We know it is not good, we know the consequences with strike us some day – and still we stay with what we know.

But there is also another side of the story. There are these prophets of unquestioned change. There are the people who say that everything new is automatically better, and most of all they say that we have to invest into something – aka their product or service – just because it is new, innovative, the hottest trend since bottled water. A study found, QUOTE, that me, for instance, not being innovative at all, despite more than 15 years in some sort of chemistry research and development. They found a correlation with type of Internet browsers used and innovation. As I do use the pre-installed one – and do not download the new fancy, innovative, trendy one – I seem to exhibit an “inside-the-box” thinking. I do not challenge the status quo. Without wanting to open the box of Pandora of discussing the pro and cons o different browsers, I just ask my self: how much innovation do I really need in a little program that opens and displays web pages for me. Please raise your hand, when you had a discussion with the one or another potential supplier of any product or service that went along the same line of argument. You need it, because it is innovative, the new trend – or even worse: because anybody else in your industry already uses it. I’ve heard this argument every 18 month as we were approached to change again the method and software tool for innovation management. I think during my career in chemical industry I used them all… At least here in Germany we also have these waves in the media, with patterns that always start with the horror scenario that Germany misses out again the new trend. Only which trend is to be missed changes over the years. At the moment we all miss the chances and opportunities of Industry 4.0.

So how can a decision be made? How do you anticipate the right trends or ideas and same time weed out all that distractions and false promises? How to set a new trend, how to lead it? When is it more considerate to wait and see? When is it too early – and when is it too late?

Is Industry 4.0 a trend to consider for Chemical Industry, is it something to watch out? I do think so, very much. But I don’t think that it is something to consider for everyone. I think that this forward looking decisions need to be made in a strategic context. Where does the organization stands today? What are the greater themes and topics that impact the organization today? Which strategy was developed for the organization’s future?

And which tools did you develop to make good decisions in which innovations or trends you invest in and which will not be relevant for your organizations? If you do not have a clear rule set for this decisions that shape the future of your organization, it is maybe time to develop them. The change is coming anyway, sometimes expected, sometimes surprising. But it is coming, be assured. I will now go and upgrade my MacBook, finally.