Oswald Letter

Continuously innovate to stay at the top of your game

Idea concept with light bulbs on green backgroundby Dan Oswald

I recently saw two photos that caught my eye. The first, from 2005, was taken when Pope Benedict XVI was introduced as the new pope. The second, taken in 2013, was from the unveiling of Pope Francis. While less than a decade had passed between the two events, there is a notable difference between the two crowds that jammed St. Peter’s Square. The first photo, taken by Luca Bruno of the Associated Press, shows a lone person with a flip phone in the back of the crowd. The second photo, taken by Michael Sohn, also of the Associated Press, shows a very different situation—it’s aglow with the screens of hundreds, if not thousands, of smartphones and tablets, all raised to capture the historic event.

The iPhone didn’t come to market until 2007, two years after Pope Benedict XVI’s unveiling. In the six years between the iPhone’s release and Pope Francis’ introduction to the world, smartphone technology had become a fixture in our everyday lives—so much so that nearly every person that attended the 2013 event chose to capture the moment on their personal devices.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The second picture certainly carries a very distinct and significant message for all of us. Advances in technology are causing our world to change at a breakneck pace. For anyone in business who is trying to remain relevant to their customers, the message is innovate or perish. A business needs to adapt to an ever-changing world, or it will cease to exist. And it’s frightening the speed at which the changes are happening.

I can remember when Sony released the Walkman in the late 1970s as a portable audiocassette player. Today, our smartphones act as our personal, portable stereos and can play not just the songs on a single cassette tape but virtually every commercial song ever recorded. My first work computer in the late 1980s was an Apple Macintosh with 128k of memory. Today, my phone has infinitely more computing power.

A business must demonstrate agility and continually innovate if it wants to keep pace with the rapid changes our world is experiencing. And if you want to lead the pack, the bar is set even higher. As a leader, you can’t wait for something to happen; you must make it happen. You need to continually look for new ideas, concepts, and opportunities. You must help others on your team do the same. It’s up to you to stress the importance of innovation to each and every member of your team so they share your sense of urgency. Your business’ survival depends on it.

That last sentence may sound a bit dramatic. Will your business really die if you don’t innovate? I think the answer is a resounding “Yes!” It may not happen tomorrow, next week, or even next year, but a company that doesn’t innovate will not survive. You must continually strive to remain relevant to your customers. You must constantly come up with new ideas that help maintain or grow your market share. If you don’t, you’ll be working for someone else who does.

In a world where we’re looking for every competitive advantage we can find, the ability to innovate is a true difference maker. Which companies come to mind when you think about innovation? Certainly Apple has constantly innovated and changed the world with the iPad, iPhone, and now the Apple Watch. Google (now Alphabet) is another one. In addition to “creating” the modern search engine, the company is pioneering self-driving cars and photographing the world to give us Google Maps Street View. Many of us can’t imagine life without either of these companies—even those of us who have been alive significantly longer than either of them. They have innovated and made themselves relevant. And they continue to do so every day.

One last thing about innovation. While your business won’t survive if you aren’t agile and adapt to new ideas and concepts, not every idea or concept is going to work. Part of being on the cutting edge is that every once in a while, you fall off the cliff. Some ideas aren’t going to work. That’s OK. Not everything Apple or Google has tried has worked, either. Apple had the Newton. Never heard of it? That’s because it bombed, as did the Apple Quick Take camera. And Google has had Google Catalogs, Google Video, and Google Wave, among others. You see, not everything with the name Google attached to it succeeds. There will be some failures. If there aren’t, you’re not trying hard enough. It’s your job to make it OK for people to take risks and fail. It’s the only way your company will successfully innovate.

1 thought on “Continuously innovate to stay at the top of your game”

  1. I truly enjoy reading The Oswald Letter and your insight on the ins and outs and protocol in conducting business. Most of the time, the read seems fairly simple, but I assume the majority of businesses either don’t practice what you say or just don’t get it.

    Anyway, someone suggested I read your posts about 4 months ago and I truly have enjoyed what you have to say each time I receive an email from The Oswald Letter. Keep it up the good work, Theresa

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