Innovation interview: Jurgen Wolff

Imaginatik’s series on series on idea management, process efficiency and high-impact innovation continues today with Jurgen Wolff.

He is the author of "Marketing for Entrepreneurs" (Pearson), "Do Something Different" (Virgin Books, with a foreword by Sir Richard Branson) and "Focus: Use the Power of Targeted Thinking to Get More Done" (Pearson). He also conducts an online mentoring program to help people reach their most valued goals.

1. The actual, physical process of change and “doing something different” is hard. When is it easy, or is it ever? What can leaders do to make broad, sweeping change more palatable to those of us who don’t wish to leave our comfort zones?

One strategy is to focus first on the outcome rather than the process.

When you have sold people on what things will be like when the change has been implemented, they are less resistant to change. It can also be useful to hark back to previous changes that had a successful outcome.

Beyond that, it's useful to find out what, specifically, people fear about the change being proposed. That often leads to surprising discoveries and the change process can be adjusted to take away or at least reduce some of those fears. Make the process anonymous, or at least give people that option, so that they feel safe saying what they really think.

2. In many respects, all innovation requires change: a change in thinking, a change in approach, a change in process. As a business adapts a culture of innovation, what should it change first? What should change last?

The first thing is to demonstrate - not just state - that the company values and acts upon good ideas that come from the employees at all levels. It's OK to start small but the point is to show, through action, that it's safe to come up with fresh approaches and that they will be implemented. And when some of them fail, as some will, it's important to focus on what can be learned.

In other words, the company has to value failure as well as success. Changes in thinking will follow.

3. Businesses often fall into the trap of “Well, it’s working for Google/Apple/Etc., let’s just do that.” Why is it hard for companies to be themselves?

Imitating is easier than origination. Unfortunately often what is imitated is a solution rather than the method used to come up with that solution.

For example, after Walt Disney died the company tried to come up with ideas that they thought Walt would have liked. But they were coming up with projects similar to the ones he did. What they needed to copy was his spirit of adventure and his risk-taking. It took the company many years before it caught on to that.

4. Often, when an epiphany such as “We can fix this” strikes, it provides the motivation to change. As you researched companies for “Do Something Different: Proven Marketing Techniques to Transform Your Business,” what was the most surprising motivation behind a company’s willingness to head in a new direction?

Generally the biggest incentive to change is a crisis. Unfortunately, by that point it's often too late.

One executive I ran across occasionally created fake crises - he would tell his team that a project needed to be finished within an incredibly short time frame. His team worked day and night and became a more effective unit. When they got the job done he threw a big celebration and gave them some time off. He never told them the real deadline actually was two weeks later.

Obviously it's not wise to do this too often or your team will burn out, but it did invigorate them and it brought out more creativity.

5. A company says, “We’re already Number One. Why do we need to innovate?” How do you respond?

Remember IBM. Or Xerox. Or Smith Corona. Want to be on that list?

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