Watching Frozen 2 at the weekend reminded me that I have a confession to make. No, it wasn’t the pretence of childcare while watching an animated film with my kids! My confession is about innovation: I don’t always know in advance the right thing to do throughout the whole process of creating a new product and service - from the problem, through ideas, development and to market. As someone whose profession for 20 years has been to help companies do just that, did I say, “I don’t know what to do”? Yes, I did.
Far too often we expect experts to have all the answers at the beginning of the journey: “Tell me the steps I need to follow”. “Show me what the final result will be“, or “How much will it cost, what will my ROI be”?
The reality: As we know from any good story or indeed any business journey, that innovation & success (and particularly disruptive innovation) comes from managing uncertainty to unlock new value or address a problem. Because of this inherent uncertainty, there can be no single defined path to success. And while it is tempting to look for simple answers, if someone tries to persuade you otherwise I’d suggest they are either a charlatan or at the very least, it’s not an innovation challenge you’re facing.
This ‘inherent uncertainty’ is as true today as ever with digital disruption and the global challenge of moving to a more sustainable and hopefully circular economy. How we evaluate sustainability choices is super complex – when choosing between energy and waste which is more important? A solution with less CO2 or one that protects biodiversity? The choices are not simply ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
And how we evaluate these choices as designers and business leaders today will undoubtedly not be the same as the way customers and our wider society judges them in the future, with the benefit of hindsight. And because there aren’t any easy answers, it can sometimes seem like we should do nothing for fear of getting it wrong.
With technology and business evolving quicker than ever, to maintain relevant strategies tends to cover a shorter timeframe. No longer do we regularly hear about 10-year plans as that horizon is far too unclear, never mind unconnected with leaders’ motivations. More often than not, a 3-5 year plan is appropriate to ensure the right moves are chosen now. Importantly shorter-term steps shouldn’t mean short term thinking – it's more important than ever that those strategic plans are backed by a clear and long term corporate purpose.
And so, while I make my confession openly, I think it’s important to share; We can’t know where the path will take us at the start of the story and often we shouldn’t try to define the whole journey too soon. As individuals, innovation teams, companies and society we need to embrace the uncertainty and recognise the path probably isn’t a straight road!
And as they say in Frozen 2, we need to focus on doing “the next right thing”.