An innovation expert argues that the time is just right for your big idea
by Kate Pavao, August 2009
In Scott D. Anthony’s The Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook for Uncertain Times, the president of innovation consulting and investing company Innosight says he knows these are stormy times for executives. But he argues that “the silver lining for innovators is that the forced discipline of tough economic times can help innovation.” Read Profit Online’s recent interview with Anthony to find out what you can do to drive smart innovation at your company—and why doing so is necessary for survival.
Profit Online: What inspired you to write this book?
Anthony: Back in October when markets were collapsing and companies were scrambling to figure out what they needed to do, the leadership team at Innosight wanted to reassure clients that you could innovate no matter how bad the downturn became. And it really didn’t take more than 10 minutes of research to realize that even in the darkest of times, innovation is still possible. When we looked at these historical stories, we saw that we could draw on their lessons and provide practical advice for what to do in today’s highly turbulent times. The shorter way of saying that is: We know there is still hope out there and we wanted to help people find that hope.
Profit Online: How does a tough economy help innovation?
Anthony: The reason so many companies struggle with innovation is abundance. People have too much money, too much time, and too much patience, and because of that they follow the wrong approach for too long. Belt tightening, if managed in the right way, could actually be huge boon for innovation. What makes it doubly good now is we’ve had about two decades of good research and applied field work to give people practical tools for innovating more cheaply and more effectively.
Profit Online: You use many examples of smart innovators from Campbell’s Soup to Procter & Gamble to a solar panel company. What qualities do these companies have in common?
Anthony: If you want to place a bet on a company that’s going to transform what exists or transform what doesn’t, find someone who is following patters of disruptive innovation. People who have gotten it right in upturns, downturns, any kind of turn, find ways to play the innovation game in a fundamentally different way. They’re not just trying to do it better than everyone else, they are trying to figure out a way to make it simpler or make it more affordable, or make it more customizable. or make it more accessible. Bad times are particularly favorable for those who try to make it simple and cheap because people aren’t necessarily looking for the latest greatest seventh-blade-on-your-razor sort of innovation. They are looking for people who can really help them solve their problems in a different way.
Profit Online: Right. You say that a customer-focused approach is more important than ever. How can companies make sure they are serving customers correctly?
Anthony: The most important thing is to really develop and ability to burrow into the mind of the customer and experience life the way they experience life. In many companies, people are being told to do more with less. But if you don’t understand the customer and how they define more, what you end up doing is less with less. You have to figure out what matters to the customer, what do they really care about, what job are they trying to get done, what dimensions of performance are absolutely critical—and what doesn’t actually matter to them very much. This allows you to innovate more effectively, more efficiently and more affordably.