The first step to disruptive innovation isn’t technology

innovation or disruption

True innovation is more complicated than cutting-edge tech, open labs and hackathons – it asks fundamental questions about your purpose and value in the eyes of the customer.

I cannot believe the end of 2017 is just a few weeks away. In my home city of Singapore, the Christmas lights are up on Orchard Road and the annual retail buzz is growing. But it also means we need to start thinking about 2018.

Each year I develop three bodies of work, which form the basis of my work in the year ahead:

  1. A reflection on the year
  2. Predictions for the year ahead
  3. An Industry Awareness Study into topics shaping boardrooms.

In 2017 the word ‘Innovation’ has dominated boardrooms across all industries, as organizations seek to push ahead of competitors in pursuit of any competitive advantage. The threat triples when we consider the even growing tsunami of disruption coming from emerging technologies and startups. Will your organization disrupt itself, or succumb to the growing threat of being disrupted?

2017 was undoubtedly the year of retail disruption, as we watched global retail giants Radio Shack and Toys R Us file for bankruptcy under pressure from the Amazon generation.

Retail is a business struggling to re-invent itself, to find relevance in the consumer mind space again. Going head to head with Amazon on price merely pushed them closer to death.

Innovation is more complicated than labs, new tech and hackathons – it asks fundamental questions about the core purpose and value of an organization in the eyes of their customers. While in hindsight it’s easy to see the faults of those that fell, the common trait is organizations that simply lost touch with the expectations of their customers. Here are a few examples:

  • NetFlix didn’t kill Blockbuster – ridiculous late fees and physical distribution did
  • Uber didn’t kill the taxi business – fare control and high licensing did
  • Apple didn’t destroy the music industry – limited consumption models did
  • Airbnb isn’t killing the hotel industry – ancient pricing and availability models are doing that.

In each case, technology wasn’t the killer. A complete failure to evolve into a customer-centric organization with objective methods of measuring market needs, pains and goals have been – and remain – the biggest threat to any company.

2017 has been my most successful year, with an overwhelming number of senior leadership groups and boards calling for help as they consider the future options for organizations they control. And like all the trends that came before innovation, the first step is self-awareness – understanding where you are strong and where you have areas of growth.

Far too many companies are launching hackathons or innovation labs, then patting themselves on the back for a job well done – then 12 months down the road, they’re facing declining motivation, increased competitive threats and high staff turnover.

So, for my annual Industry Awareness Study this year, I’m focusing on innovation. The study aims to explore the vital first step of self-awareness as a baseline for success. While the questions are simple, they are designed to identify key patterns in industries.

The survey takes only a few minutes to complete, with the response treated with the strictest of confidentiality. Those that register to receive the findings early next year can be ensured your replies remain anonymous.

Last year we got just over 10,700 responses, which was only possible through the overwhelming support of those that completed and shared the survey.

I now humbly ask for your input into the 2017 Innovation Awareness Study, before you forward it onto five people.

Scott Bales is a  global leader in the cutting edge arena known as “The Digital Shift”, encompassing innovation, culture, design, technology and mobility. A thought leader through and through, Scott is re-arming corporates with innovation strategies to challenge existing modus operandi and progress towards digital transformation.

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