Leon Wahler shares new insights into the advantages of challenging the status quo in business and innovation.
When I was a student, I had a summer job at a summer camp.
During the pre-camp open house, I was giving some of the parents of our campers a tour of the facilities.
As we passed by the waterfront, one of the mothers said: “I hope my Freddy learns to swim this summer, but don’t let him go near the water.”
Fast forward a few years, and I’m sitting in a marketing strategy meeting hearing a director of marketing saying: “I want to hear some real out-of-the-box ideas, but let’s not forget to focus on what got us here.”
Too many people and enterprises want to get seen as disruptors, but they are afraid of disruption.
Disrupting the status quo or thinking outside the box takes people outside of their comfort zone.
It’s much easier and more comfortable to go with the flow:
- “Let’s stick with what’s tried and true.”
- “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
- “Let’s not rock the boat.”
- “We have to focus on our core competencies.”
- “This has always worked for us.”
Many companies pay lip-service to innovation but fall back to their usual routines, choosing stability over risk.
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As a market researcher, I have clients asking for innovative research proposals, but then they just commission the same types of studies they have done in the past.
The justification is that they can use older studies as a baseline.
Study results sometimes point to a new direction a company may take.
Instead, they look for data that confirms their current orientation.
They shelve creativity and innovation for a future date.
Many companies would rather hear positive feedback from existing customers rather than negative feedback from ex-customers and/or non-customers.
There is comfort in focusing on what we do well rather than trying to understand our failings and limitations.
While focusing on and maintaining our positive attributes should not be ignored, we must be prepared for some risk and disruption if we want to expand and grow into new areas of opportunity.
Those companies who are open to innovation and risk-taking, in addition to opening up new opportunities for themselves also enjoy the bonus of employees who are more enthusiastic and more engaged.
Innovation and creativity build upon themselves.
Once you have encouraged thinking outside the box, it is hard to go back inside the box.
New ideas tend to build on each other and generate opportunities.
As long as businesses are prepared to change and embrace new directions and are willing to tolerate risk, then innovation and creativity will flourish.
I would like to say that Freddy went on to become an Olympic swimmer, but sadly he spent most of his summer on the beach, unable to overcome his fear of the water.