Why Risk Innovation?

Have you ever heard of Google Video, Google Lively, Google Notebook, Google Answers or Google Wave? Do you use Google+? One of the axioms spoken time and time again by leaders in Silicon Valley is that failure is a good thing. In fact, Silicon Valley leaders will tell you that failure is not just unavoidable, but integral to achieving new heights. Google has been a standard bearer for innovation since its founding in 1998 to bring the world Google Maps, Google Books, Gmail, amongst many other products that ostensibly have little to do with its original service as a search engine. But while we all laud Google for its successes, it is easy to forget that Google has endured many failures as well.

The part that may put the most stress on powerful industry leaders is failure but companies that truly innovate may fail more than they succeed, dumping valuable resources into projects and products that either never see the light of day or that are quite transient. Innovation sounds good until this happens, and CEOs have to face the board, investors, and other players who see dollars being spent with little to no return. So why risk innovation?

Play offense not defense.

If a company doesn’t invest in forward thinking ideas and innovation, someone else will, and it will be working from behind instead of leading the charge. Blackberry was the leader in advanced phone technology before it was eventually trounced by the iPhone and Android. Blockbuster lost out to DVR, On-Demand, streaming services amongst other new technologies that changed the way we consume movies and television. Being an industry leader is more ephemeral than even the most anxiety ridden, paranoid CEO wants to believe. While large investment innovation is risky, it is more perilous for a company to not do so at all.

Big companies have great advantages.

Of course there are many difficulties for a large company with thousands of employees across the globe to innovate, but there are also numerous advantages that these types of companies carry. They have the resources to invest in prioritizing innovation in the company, to hire smart, creative and innovative people, to explore innovative ideas, and to fail. While start-ups may have the advantage of being small and new, they are one miscalculated decision away from non-existence. A big company can afford to try ideas with much smaller stakes than its nascent competitors.

Globalization is here, so let it be a boon to your company instead of an excuse for failure.

While globalization may bring in a host of new competitors and challenges to companies across every industry, it is also a reason and an opportunity to innovate. There are new markets, and cultures to explore and a diverse set of perspectives to bring into the company. Because of globalization, it is more important than ever to be an innovative industry leader.

It is just as important to think ten years out as it is to think one quarter ahead.

Ever hear of the marshmallow test? When offered one marshmallow immediately, or two marshmallows later, children who chose to wait for two marshmallows tended to have better life outcomes. It is human nature to value the near future over the long term. Company leaders and employees may be more worried about their immediate job security and reputation than about whether or not the company will still be flourishing when they are gone. From the top on down, companies need to have the cultures and structures in place that foster innovation and allow for the company to consider its long-term outlook.

Companies that are perpetually innovative are not so due to luck or serendipity. Innovation takes a deep commitment of time, people, money, and perhaps most importantly patience to ask the right questions, ideate, build, and scale. There are so many places in the pipeline where an idea can fail, and it takes the commitment from the board on down to actually do innovation right. The opportunity cost of investing in innovation is high but, just as important to assessing the risks of innovation is grasping the full breadth of the rewards. There are countless reasons to pursuit innovation so take a chance and make it a good one.

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