In our daily lives, we face countless tasks that are important and urgent. But not everything important is urgent, and not everything urgent is always important. This is a distinction that is often lost on most people.
Here, a simple example serves to illustrate the differences. Imagine there is a new product that was recently launched; sales are not weak, but they could be better. More pressing, customers like the new product, but have lots of questions about how best to use it. In this example, product refinements are important—no doubt, but responding to customer requests is an urgent matter.
The former can wait, but that doesn’t mean it’s critical. The latter requires immediate attention.
It’s quite easy for people to lose track of where to focus their resources, and what is true of individuals is no less true of companies.
This disconnect is illustrated well by many firms’ inability to capitalize on innovation and deliver growth. Growth tomorrow is important, but managing the state of the business today often takes urgency over “nice to have” investments that won’t bear fruit immediately.
Many companies encourage their colleagues to “take ownership” and help the firm “innovate for tomorrow”, but fail to reward or even encourage such activities. In some cases, companies even inadvertently punish attempts at innovation and growth. We’ve all experienced the “not invented here” or “not part of my job” mentality.
Overcoming these disconnects requires a measure of honesty from the top of the organization that then cascades down into a series of best practices for the rank and file.
There is a distinction between management and leadership. Processes and procedures are managed. Smart people look for leadership. The former is about rules, processes and procedures. The latter is about exemplary work activities. If firms are serious about asking for contributions to growth and innovation across the firm, they need to ensure that they have a culture that truly encourages ownership at every level across the organization. Risks should be supported and rewards should be celebrated. That brings us to our next two points.
If a firm is not failing at least part of the time, then it is probably not taking advantage of all the opportunities to innovate and grow. No one and no firm is ever going to get it right every single time. The important thing is not to focus on success, but to encourage measured risk-taking and to openly and honestly discuss failures as learning experiences for the future.
When innovation is successful and growth becomes real, it is important to recognize those who contributed to the end result. This means looking past the “front man” (or “front woman”) leading an effort and including all those individuals that stood behind him (or her) to make success possible. Sometimes this means looking in non-obvious places.
For firms serious about growth and innovation, the focus should not be on ensuring success—there is no secret formula for that. The emphasis should be on “failing smartly”, supporting measured risk taking and honestly discussing all lessons learned—good or bad—as a result of any effort.
Do you have a sense of what makes for a “smart failure”? Does your firm understand how and why innovation takes place, or where new growth opportunities lie? When was the last time a great idea made its way across your organization? Did the idea ever make its way to a business case or experimentation?
If you’re not sure, maybe it’s time to give us a call.
About the Kabardian Group: We help clients achieve profitable growth. Short, simple and to the point. Our clients include companies large and small and at every stage of their development, including start-ups. www.kabardian.com