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Lisa Morgan
Lisa Morgan
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5 Traits of Truly Innovative Companies

When most people think about innovation, they think of companies like Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google because those companies appear to have some kind of magic that other organizations lack. If your company wants to make lightning strike repeatedly, consider these points.
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Most companies consider themselves "innovative" whether they are disrupting a market, maintaining the status quo, or dying on the vine.  While most individuals tend to think of innovation as synonymous with disruption, incremental innovation can also drive billions of dollars in revenue.

Some organizations have mastered the process of innovation because they realize innovation involves more than just a bright idea. Those ideas need to be rooted in fertile ground, which includes the ability to execute, the agility to adapt as conditions change, and a confluence of external factors such as market readiness and a critical mass of supporting infrastructure.

"Disruption happens when small, nimble companies challenge incumbents with technology," said Conrad Burke, vice president of New Ventures at Intellectual Ventures and head of ISF Incubator, an incubator and accelerator within Intellectual Ventures, which creates and licenses intellectual property (IP). "Timing is everything. You have to be able to execute well and quickly because things can change rapidly."

On the other hand, speed can kill. Many great ideas haven't taken off as expected simply because the timing was wrong. For example, at the turn of the millennium, mobile marketing was supposed to change the world. Now, 18 years later, marketers are advancing the same idea as if it's novel. The difference is that today we have smartphones that deliver slick experiences, as opposed to flip phones. In addition, the networks to which our phones are connected provide coverage just about everywhere and their significantly greater bandwidth supports many content types, not just text.  Further, there are more than 5 billion mobile users around the world now, up from about 750 million in 2000.  In short, mobile marketing is now practical.

Image: Pixabay
Image: Pixabay

Speed has also killed a lot of "first movers" seeking "first-mover advantage." While the first to market may change the world, the first company to execute an idea isn't necessarily the one that will succeed. Sometimes later entrants can learn from and improve on an idea. For example, Facebook became what MySpace didn't.

One innovation killer is an adamant focus on the past: Things have been done the same way for years or decades so they will continue to be done the same way. However, in today's business environment, nothing is static.

"The number one barrier is fear of change, this fear of something going wrong so they end up in an innovator's dilemma which is because we've been successful we now need to be conservative to maintain it. But they didn't achieve that success by maintaining something, they achieved it by being a maverick," said Dom Price, head of R&D and work futurist at software company Atlassian.  "You have to skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is."

Joe Carella, assistant dean of the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management and Paul Melendez, professor of Practice and founder of the Center of Leadership Ethics, Department of Management and Organizations in the Eller College of Management jointly research innovation and have noticed some common traits among successful innovative leaders.

"They have a future-state attitude.  They think in terms of exponential realities and the impact the introduction of a new product or service will have in a longer time frame than a typical product development person," said Carella.  "They're very clear on the importance of creating new connections that can benefit themselves and others in their network."

Can you imagine getting in trouble for not failing once in a while?  It can happen at Barnum Financial Group because the CEO is a progressive, modern thinker who would rather see employees try something and fail rather than not trying at all.

"If you're not afraid of failing, you're not afraid to try," said Elizabeth Hiza, chief of staff at Barnum Financial Group. "If you're not afraid to try, you're free to be creative."

Following are a few other important points to consider.

Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers big data and BI for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include ... View Full Bio

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