GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton
Using only three words, how would you describe your company?
Better yet, what three words would your customers use to describe your company?
These three words capture your company’s identity. They answer, “who we are” and “what business we’re in.” They capture a shared understanding of where customers allow you to play and how you take action to win.
Everything consistent with this identity is normal, safe, and comfortable.
Everything inconsistent with this identity is weird, risky, and scary.
Your identity is killing innovation.
Innovation is something new that creates value.
Identity is carefully constructed, enduring, and fiercely protected and reinforced.
When innovation and identity conflict, innovation usually loses.
Whether the innovation is incremental, adjacent, or radical doesn’t matter. If it conflicts with the company’s identity, it will join the 99.9% of innovations that are canceled before they ever launch.
Your identity can supercharge innovation.
When innovation and identity guide and reinforce each other, it doesn’t matter if the innovation is incremental, adjacent, or radical. It can win.
Identity-based Innovation changes your perspective.
We typically think about innovation as falling into three types based on the scope of change to the business model:
- Incremental innovations that make existing offerings better, faster, and cheaper for existing customers and use our existing business model
- Adjacent innovations are new offerings in new categories, appeal to new customers, require new processes and activities to create or use new revenue models
- Radical innovations that change everything – offerings, customers, processes and activities, and revenue models
These types make sense IF we’re perfectly logical and rational beings capable of dispassionately evaluating data and making decisions. SPOILER ALERT: We’re not. We decide with our hearts (emotions, values, fears, and desires) and justify those decisions with our heads (logic and data).
So, why not use an innovation-typing scheme that reflects our humanity and reality?
- Identity-enhancing innovations reinforce and strengthen people’s comfort and certainty in who they are and what they do relative to the organization. “Organizational members all ‘know’ what actions are acceptable based on a shared understanding of what the organization represents, and this knowledge becomes codified u a set of heuristics about which innovative activities should be pursued and which should be dismissed.”
- Identity-stretching innovations enable and stretch people’s understanding of who they are and what they do in an additive, not threatening, way to their current identities.
- Identity-challenging innovations are threats and tend to occur in one of two contexts:
- Extreme technological change that “results in the obsolescence of a product market or the convergence of multiple product markets.” (challenges “who we are”)
- Competitors or new entrants that launch new offerings or change the basis of competition (challenges “what we do”)
By looking at your innovations through the lens of identity (and, therefore, people’s decision-making hearts), you can more easily identify the ones that will be supported and those that will be axed.
It also changes your results.
“Ok, nerd,” you’re probably thinking. “Thanks for dragging me into your innovation portfolio geek-out.”
Fair, but let me illustrate the power of this perspective using some examples from P&G.
|Offering||Business-Model Types||Identity-based Categories|
|Charmin Smooth Tear||Incremental|
Made Charmin easier to tear
Reinforced Charmin’s premium experience
New durable product in an existing category (floor cleaning)
Reinforced P&G’s identity as a provider of best-in-class cleaning products
|Tide Dry Cleaners||Radical|
Moved P&G into services and uses a franchise model
Dry cleaning service is consistent with P&G’s identity but stretches into providing services vs. just products
Do you see what happened on that third line? A Radical Innovation was identity-stretching (not challenging), and it’s in the 0.1% of corporate innovations that launched! It’s in 22 states!
The Bottom Line
If you look at innovation in the same way you always have, through the lens of changes to your business model, you’ll get the same innovation results you always have.
If you look at innovation differently, through the lens of how it affects personal and organizational identity, you’ll get different results. You may even get radical results.
Image Credit: Unsplash
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