Let’s be totally clear right up front: even innovators fail. They muck up, foul up, trip over bad decisions and make a mess of things sometimes (at least a little). But, there are tried and true “isms” that all innovators fail to fail at.
Some mistakes are expected. Some mistakes are unavoidable. But these particular failures can’t happen if you want to not just survive disruption but thrive in it, live for it and own it. (And who doesn’t want to own disruption?)
Here are the best lessons from our own forward-thinking Oracle Utilities insiders (shout outs to Rodger Smith, Dan Byrnes and Mike Ballard) all the way up to our own Oracle founder Larry Ellison.
If the geeks tell you there’s a problem—or a real opportunity—listen to them. By geeks, we mean those frontline engineers, IT peeps, UX people, R&D insiders and those fanatic customers who know your product inside, outside and upside down. If they say something to you, they’re doing it out of love—to make things better, smarter, faster, more agile. Don’t just pay those ideas some lip service, really listen. It may not be feasible in the end, but you don’t really know that until you give it real thought, research and collaboration. Being dismissive has never moved an innovation forward.
This is now a real-time world. You’re going to get feedback—from people and from data sets. That means you will always be adjusting, tweaking, changing, trying new projects (that may need to die once you get that feedback), redeveloping/reengineering old projects (that may work better with different parameters) and there is no longer an end to any project—just constant, ongoing evolution.
The real innovator doesn’t talk about educating customers or converting them or making them “more aware.” They simply engineer the complicated side of customer interactions to all happen behind the scenes, making what faces the customer easy to use, intuitive and naturally interactive. (That doesn’t mean what’s going on isn’t complicated. It just means you don’t make the customer part of that complication—because they really, truly don’t want to be involved in that complication.)
It may seem counter-intuitive to bet on finding the right way to gain value from creative problem solving after-the-fact, but it happens constantly that finding a smart way to solve a common pain point results in some serious profit margins—eventually. (And no one ever made great art by coloring within the lines.)
Instead, ask. And then ask them to explain. Then figure out how you can at least solve for the heart of the matter. There’s a classic story of Henry Ford saying that if he asked what his customers wanted, they would have simply said “a faster horse.” The gist of this oft-told American tall tale is that customers didn’t really know what they wanted until he brought it to them. But think of it this way: What did he actually bring his customers? A faster “horse.” His horse was mechanical, but he fulfilled the essence of the request; he just didn’t take it too literally. The real lesson here isn’t about not asking about customer desires, it’s about getting ahead of those desires with innovative interpretations.
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