Being a good innovator is being able to see value in things that others don't. This is what Seth Godin points to today in his post on change.
You can't change everything. You don't need to. You just have to adapt to the changing realities of the market place.
Seth offers some ways of looking at this.
- Keep the machines in your factory, but change what they make.
- Keep your customers, but change what you sell to them.
- Keep your providers, but change the profit structure.
- Keep your industry but change where the money comes from.
- Keep your staff, but change what you do.
- Keep your mission, but change your scale.
- Keep your products, but change the way you market them.
- Keep your customers, but change how much you sell each one.
- Keep your technology, but use it to do something else.
- Keep your reputation, but apply it to a different industry or problem.
One way to understand how to change as Seth suggests is to first do an inventory of your business's impact assets. What do you have to use, to offer, to adapt, etc. that can make a difference for people. Make a list.
Second, make a list of the issues or problems that you see your customers or clients having. Put this column next to your impact asset one.
Third, draw a line from each asset to each problem or issue. You should see new ways to take what you have and apply it toward being a solution provider for people.
Here's how I have done this.
I'm a leadership and planning consultant. I mentor leaders and their organizations through the transitions from where they are to where they need to be in the future. The reality is that no one has training money, and no one is looking to do a long-range plan. Both are too big for companies suffering in a down economy to take on. So, here's what I've done.
First example: Short is the new Long
I took my planning project process that typically lasts 6-8 months or longer, and developed a companion project that can be done in one day, focused on the next six to eighteen months. The process isn't comprehensive, and it doesn't do everything the larger project does. But it quickly moves groups to clarity and then into strategic action.
To better understand what I'm talking about go watch this 4.5 minute video of me talking about the Four Questions That Every Leader Must Ask. Somewhere between 5 minutes and 5 hours, a group can discover what they must do right now in order to make the kind of changes that Seth's refers to in his post. And this may be all they need to do to begin to make the transition to an improved situation
Second example: Local charitable business leadership training
I'm part of a group here in Asheville, Lessons in Leadership, that for the past two years has offered as a give back to the community, a low-cost/ high impact leadership training event. The focus is two fold. First, to provide an event that local business can bring their leadership teams that provides them new ideas and a motivational boost to their team work together. Second, all of us who participate here are doing this at no cost, and the money raised goes to support local families in need. Thus far we've raised over $17,000 to go to families in need. The model is a local community business leadership training charity event.
I've taken this idea, simplified it for replication, and have begun to talk to people in other communities about conducting a similar project, and one that fits with their community's needs. What I propose to them is the same, a give back to the community leadership training event for charitable purposes. We recruit sponsors to cover some of the costs. We work at getting as much donated as possible. For the event, I come in as the keynote presenter to talk about impact leadership along with a couple of local people who share their business impact stories. Part of the intention of the project is to begin to develop local talent to conduct community-wide training events. The event lasts 2.5 hours, and everyone leaves excited about working more closely together as a business community. The following morning, I meet with the leaders of the sponsoring businesses for two hours where we address specific issues related to business development in their community. Presently, I'm talking with two communities about conducting this project.
The pivots of change that Seth describes don't have to be huge transitions for them to work. They do however have to address the current reality of those to whom you provide your products and services. Making this connection is the key.
My additional suggestion is to read Peter Drucker's Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The kind of thought process that Seth outlines in his post, Drucker describes in more detail in his book. He shows us where the entrepreneurial opportunities can be found. It is not enough to think about this. You have to make the changes that you see if you want to improve your situations. Do it, and do it often, and you'll begin see the difference you can make in your business, your customers, and even in your community. And to do this in a down economy is a real testimony to the trust and confidence that people should be placing you and your business.