By Mike Rodgers

Most of the greatest companies in history attribute their success with innovation. Apple developed the first portable computer for the masses. Blackberry created its trackball. Blockbuster provided any kind of rental movie or video game a person in the United States needed. Today, only one is still at the top of their industry.

To quote James F. Bell: “To face tomorrow with the thought of using methods of yesterday is to envision life at a standstill. To keep ahead, each one of us… must search for new and better methods…”

Apple fell to obscurity before the return of Steve Jobs. They failed to connect with their audience and develop innovative products.

When Apple eliminated buttons on their phone, Blackberry did not want to change. They felt it wasn’t a real competition because customers valued their trackball more. Blackberry lost significant value and almost fell to bankruptcy. In 2011, it claimed 50% of the smartphone market. In 2017, it fell to zero.

Blockbuster relied on its late fees for a major part of their revenue. When Netflix wanted them to buy their company, they said no. They didn’t like their model for no late fees. A short time later, Blockbuster closed its doors.

When Apple turned the tide and focused on creating groundbreaking technology, it grew. They knew that survival requires constant innovation.

When companies stop innovating, they stop growing. Eventually, they die.

Here are some ways we can focus on innovation as a journey instead of a destination.

Focus on one thing (and make it better)
Leadership expert Jim Collins gives us the “Hedgehog Concept” based on a Greek parable. “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” What does the hedgehog do? When it’s in danger, it rolls into a ball and no predators can hurt him. As a business, when we focus on one big thing, we become the best at it. And everyone knows it.

Collins gives us three things to focus on in his book, Good to Great. He calls it the intersection of three circles.

  1. What are you passionate about?
  2. What can you be the best at?
  3. What drives your economic engine?

Businesses leverage. They analyze their core business model and look for the areas they can improve. When they focus on aspects within the industry, they find opportunities for innovation. They optimize their teams and resources to create fast innovation, making them trendsetters in the industry.

Develop mile-markers, not an end goal
The biggest killer to innovation is when a company thinks they don’t need it anymore. They are strong, they have a foundation and customer base. They aren’t threatened by new competition and their industry is on cruise control. Nothing can be further from the truth.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, he explains how businesses are vulnerable if they don’t improve.

In the Biblical story, David saw the advantages he had. Goliath was strong, almost invincible. But his size made him slow, his head was vulnerable, and there were countless of weaknesses he neglected. He was overconfident. David saw the opportunity.

Every business has a starting point when they decide they will continuously innovate. It’s important they develop a true vision for what they want to do.

A car dealership might want to change their vision from selling great cars with great service…. to “providing the best experience and value so that customers can use transportation to provide for their family, go on exciting vacations, and enjoy ultimate freedom.”

It is there where vision transitions from WHAT to WHY. From now on, every form of innovation is focused on the best value, experience, and greater fulfillment a customer gets when purchasing a car.

When we focus on a journey, we create a clear roadmap.

  1. Strategic

Companies gather data, analyze, predict, and create a game plan for innovation.

  1. Opportunities

Companies identify areas for improvement in their business and industry through exploration, testing, and customer insights.

  1. Basics

Companies process and learn from their innovation, they develop the roles and team, and create a leadership and development structure.

Think in generations
After 9/11, security in the travel industry tightened. Nobody could bring sharp objects with them. That threatened the entire business model of Victorinox, the provider of the Swiss Army Knife. Most of their customers used it during travel and carried it on their person every day.

Since the start of the company, they would say, “We think in generations, not quarters.” When it came to money or business decisions, they were less concerned with short-term financial reports and more concerned with their long-term future.

Instead of doing what most companies would do, fight for the product and spend millions on marketing it, they decided to start a new line of products focused on adventure.

Their innovation to pivot and create new products awarded them success for years to come. Today, the knife only makes up a small part of their sales. They are stronger than ever and now, more diverse and secure.

In your company, think of ways you can innovate to build a legacy and future that will last for generations.

When we think of innovation as a journey, we position our companies for growth. Not only do we see success from the rewards of our hard work, but we cement our future and build a foundation that will last for generations.

Rodgers is vice president of commercial innovation at Advocate Aurora Health, which is a member of the Tech Council and the Wisconsin Healthcare Business Forum. He can be reached on LinkedIn.