Innovation is no longer an option, it’s a necessity

New Thinking 11 January 2017 Rodger Perkins

I believe that you and your employer are not being innovative enough. Controversial maybe, but while many suggest we’re now deep into the Digital Age, I think we’re racing through the innovation age with digital as the enabler.

So much has been written about digital and its impact on each of us. I believe, that as we reflect on 2016, we’ll appreciate that digital in itself has been confusing and difficult to fully understand. We sit through meetings and discussions where someone eventually says, “Well, what does digital mean to you?”. At this point, different people provide different answers – but, as an industry, we’re not speaking in one voice on this topic. Everyone has an opinion. Understanding evolves and, as we start the New Year, I’d suggest that digital is everything that enables innovation leading towards great customer outcomes and experiences. Digital is the technology that now underpins all the changes going on around us.

Let’s suggest something completely outlandish… By 2050, 90% of organisations that exist today will have disappeared. We could even say that, by 2050, 100% of the jobs that exist today will have been replaced by some form of technology (if you think I’m wrong, contact me. I’d like to know about jobs that technology can’t replace).

Start-ups lead the way

It’s difficult to imagine that 100% of the jobs that will exist in 2050 don’t exist today. We must innovate now and rapidly to survive. In my view, the only organisations that are innovating quickly enough are start-ups. Our new breed of business structure – the start-up – is now the disruptor and traditional organisations are struggling to keep up.

Don’t for a moment think that any high-end thinking, creative jobs or industries are immune to the technological changes coming to market. As I’ve written before, “Everything is about to change. Everything”. It’s possible that governments will respond to public pressure and attempt to legislate against the technology but pure economics, along with lives saved, will always win.

Consider two industries – banking and medical. 

  • Banking: A bank exists to facilitate growth in the economy through securing deposit funds and leading these out to entities that need to borrow. Additionally, and more recently, banks also provide the means for financial transactions to be completed as payments are made for goods or services between entities. Banks have existed for hundreds of years, largely in their current form, with very little change. If we consider their technology base here in NZ, they’re running on large, legacy systems that are heavy, difficult to change and almost impossible to innovate. Essentially, the banks are swimming in an ocean with cement slippers. Innovation though is coming from start-ups that focus on a slice of the traditional business. Peer-to-peer lending and online currencies are two examples. Start-ups don’t have cement slippers. Instead, they’re using flippers and catching up quickly. Yes, the banking industry is innovative and yes, the banks are innovating. But this isn’t happening fast enough.
  • Medical: The medical industry is vast and covers a huge array of employers, organisations and professional, highly skilled people. Because of the skills required to be a medical professional, it could be easy to suggest that they’re mostly immune to the types of changes I’m talking about. But they’re not. Recently, Johnson and Johnson achieved FDA approval for their automated anaesthesia device ‘Sedasys’, the beginning of the end for anaesthesiologists. Qualcomm are seeking to create a Star Trek-styled Tricorder to enable self-monitoring and diagnoses of health conditions. IBM Watson has created an automated radiologist. The big thing about these three examples is that they are – or will be – more accurate than any human. They will reduce human error in medicine, while reducing costs and increasing accessibility.  

Focus on being innovative and entrepreneurial

An innovation age requires each of us to act and behave differently if we want to thrive in the future. This is the question for your organisation, your employer and us as individuals. Are we doing enough and, more importantly, are we doing it fast enough? I’d suggest on both counts that we’re not doing enough and we’re certainly not acting quickly enough. Like the tide coming in, the digital technology lead changes are both relentless and increasingly rapid. We need to focus on being innovative, entrepreneurial. In many ways, this is why start-ups are such an interesting business model because they’re innovative and entrepreneurial.

My challenge to employers and employees in 2017 is to think about what your strategy is in terms of being innovative and entrepreneurial. Being a digital-led, customer-focused organisation will certainly help. But, by taking this approach alone, you and your organisation might win the battle, but not the war.

As I mentioned above, banks are swimming in concrete slippers. We all know this is not sustainable. We can always find reasons why we can’t do or start something or move in a certain direction. The shackles of our current existence are heavy and restrictive. In most situations, the limitations are self-imposed and could easily be removed. Like an elephant being held in position by a small stake, the barriers to change are constraints we believe in… but that could easily be changed.

Achieve excellence to survive

To become truly innovative and entrepreneurial, as both organisations and individuals, we need to focus on what we’re truly best at. Find the answer to this question ‘Why are we here?’, and then do that. Solve it, focus on it. Be excellent doing the thing that you (or your organisation) does. In the innovation age, survival will depend on you achieving excellence. Technology will also be excellent. For example, as a doctor, you might be excellent at bedside manner (personal interactions), while being assisted by a range of technologies that diagnose illness.

When I started my technology career I was naturally curious about how it worked, why it worked (or didn’t work) and how it could work better. In those early days, I was easily engaged on quality, usability, tuning and automation. Now my curiosity leads me to helping organisations with strategy, implementing technology solutions and enabling innovation.

On a day-to-day basis, I work with many of the world’s leading technology companies, talking to them about New Zealand and our environment. I also work with many of New Zealand’s leading businesses and a key focus as we start 2017 is the development and implementation of sustainable automation – automation that works to reduce overheads, reporting, documentation production, workflow management, data management, environmental management and team engagement.

As scary as it sounds, we must innovate with an entrepreneurial mind set to secure our future. When you’re ready to begin your journey and would like to know how to start, contact me and let me share our experiences and lessons.