The saying “all good things come to those who wait” can be both insightful and misleading. While there are certainly instances in which a “wait and see” approach can prove helpful in allowing time for observation, learning and stability, it can also lead to missed opportunities and stagnation.
Getting the timing right can be tricky, but can be central to the success of any project. In this innovation is no different, as it requires a productive environment, engaged teams and a receptive marketplace that can all ebb and flow depending on the season, fluctuations in the economy and the internal development of your organisation.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to timing your innovation right, there are measures you can put in place and examples to learn from that can help to inform when you take the leap into your latest innovation.
THE CHALLENGE OF WHEN TO INNOVATE
For Harvard Business Review contributor J.P. Eggers, an associate professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University, large companies often ‘get a bad rap for failing to be innovative.’ Yet pointing to his original research, Eggers suggests that this does not come from a reluctance to pursue new technologies, nor from an inability to think originally. Rather, Eggers believes that ‘it’s when and where they choose to pursue such innovations that may sometimes be the problem.’
Eggers believes the challenge facing large organisations can be summed up as follows: ‘firms may be most motivated to go after radical new technologies when they are lagging (slightly) behind expectations, but they are most likely to successfully develop such technologies when they are technology leaders.’
In order to combat this mismatch, it is suggested that ‘stronger firms need to fight against the biases that sap their motivation to be innovative’ if they are going to capitalise upon the most opportune moment to innovate. By creating a culture of innovation where failure and experimentation are encouraged rather than simply tolerated, large organisations can begin to make the shift to innovating when their offering is strongest.
TAKE A PRE-EMPTIVE APPROACH
According to a recent article by Marketing Week, L’Oréal’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Stéphane Bérubé agrees with J.P. Eggers in claiming that ‘brands should not wait for business to turn sour before kick-starting innovation, and instead shake things up when business is strong.’ Pointing out that ‘what might work for the company now might not in future,’ Bérubé believes L’Oréal’s success is largely down to the fact that it has always accelerated reinvention in periods of growth, rather than waiting for a decline or challenge and then responding.
This pre-emptive and proactive approach can be a helpful precedent for organisations looking for the ideal time to innovate, as it demonstrates that organisations must constantly be on the lookout for opportunities and openings. Building on Eggers observations, it is clear that finding the right time to innovate requires an ongoing fostering of innovation systems and cultures when times are good. This can in turn ensure that your organisation is not left incapable of responding to change if, or indeed when, challenges or slow periods of growth present themselves. Putting the necessary structures in place to do so is the first step to knowing when is the best time to innovate.
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