Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Innovators follow compass, not maps

This post is in continuation to my post on 'My Talk on Innovation'. As i promised, i am double-clicking on some aspects that i shared in my talk to awesome internship batch at my organization.

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I currently work for Citrix. Citrix was found 3 decades ago, in 1989. To put things in perspective, the year 1989 was when internet was still a university project, Windows was as old as v2.1, Dotcom bust was way too far, mobile revolution hasn't happened yet, social media didn't exist. For a company to have seen through the transitions so drastic, it must know the art of reinvention. It's just the testimony to all the right reasons that lead to longevity of the organization.

On the other side of spectrum, we have examples like Nokia smart phones that within a short period of time fell from being a market leader to being almost extinct when Apple came into scene.

Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp received attention because of the huge sum involved, and that acquisition helped Facebook overcome a fear of irrelevancy. Being an ad-free and largely free service, WhatsApp may not add to Facebook's revenues immediately. In an interview, Mark Zuckerberg mentioned that he is fine with his newer products and services not moving the needles in the business for a long time. Zuckerberg understood the consumer shift towards instant messaging, a feature Facebook didn't have at that time. More than earning immediate revenue, the WhatsApp acquisition has helped Facebook remain a leader in social networking.
My hypothesis after studying these extreme examples is that the companies that followed the compass approach as against the maps approach survived and thrived. Compass is something that gives you a sense of direction of where you are headed to and that sense of direction comes from being aware of what is happening in your field whereas the maps tell you how to go from point A to point B and not worry too much about what's happening beyond that.

The same analogy works well with Innovators as well. If you follow compass approach, we would be encouraged to figure out what is happening in our ecosystem, understanding it's implications and come up with ideas that align with reality. 

And if you follow the maps approach, your thinking is limited in what the next step in an existing idea could be. That eventually leads to limited innovation opportunities.

I am a big proponent of situational awareness as being a key skill to embrace in our careers. Innovators who are situationally aware:
1. Attend Exec meetings and comprehend what is happening in your organization
2. Are intentional about listening and suspend judgement when hearing the customer problems
3. Read frequently about industry trends and reason what it means to them and the organizations.

Doing these and many similar acts, they sharpen the bearings of their compass and are able to identify product gaps and are able to innovate faster than the competition. 

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