How do you know when it’s time to innovate?


This is the third of a series of weekly posts where I will answer a few common questions about innovation. Please feel free to add your own response. Also, if you have any questions you think we should discuss, let me know.

All the time.

The best and most productive activity and organization can do, is to always be thinking about how they will become irrelevant. Think about how you will be disrupted, and disrupt your success.

And, it all starts with the individual:

“We give a lot of airtime to building disruptive products and services, to buying and/or investing in disruptive companies, and we should. Both are vital engines of economic growth. But, the most overlooked engine of growth is the individual. If you are really looking to move the world forward, begin by innovating on the inside, and disrupt yourself.” ~ Whitney Johnson

If your organization is 100 years old, it should be thinking about how it will no longer exist. Of course, this is will always be a challenge. For every company that transforms, there are thousands who don’t.

But let’s suppose that you are just starting out on the quest to either disrupt and industry, or disrupt yourself. How do you go about it? Look for signals of where the system you want to change is stuck. By system, I mean industry, product, service, delivery method, customer experience, etc. These components are all part of the system, each and every single one of them can be changed.

Here are some key questions to ask:

  • Have our customers needs and expectations change?
  • How certain are we that their needs are being met by our products and/or services?
  • What will the world look like in 5 years? What will our role be? In what ways can we shape the future of _______?
  • What do people believe to be true about the products in this industry? How long before those beliefs become irrelevant?
  • What inconveniences are people tired about?

To change and transform is a core leadership challenge that isn’t going away any time soon. I like how Ray Davis, CEO of Umpqua Banks, frames the core message of disrupting yourself: Find the Revolution Before It Finds You.

The point is worth repeating over and over: Disrupt yourself or be disrupted.

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  • How do you know its time to innovate? When the cost of staying the same outweighs the cost of change

    • Good point! A few clients have asked me about a tool to anticipate change. They think they can see their Napster moment on a spreadsheet.



  • I believe you also posted the article “The Only Innovation Guide You’ll Ever Need” from KISSmetrics, but I love this quote from them: “with the cost of innovation being so low, you really don’t have any excuse for not experimenting and innovating on a constant basis”. This brings up another answer to your question:

    Q: How do you know it’s time to innovate? A: you shouldn’t have to ask because you should always be innovating. Always be curious. Always be learning about new ways to improve and/or change what you are currently doing.

    • Yes. This “temporary mindset” is pervasive, innovation is still seen as an every once in a while activity if at all. Same with social media.

      With that said, the next question is: How do we close the gap between temporary to sustainable? How can we make it business-as-usual?