Have you seen any dinosaurs lately? They were giants that dominated the Earth. They are, of course, long gone. But oddly enough, small sea mollusks have survived for 545 million years!
The greatest insight from Charles Darwin is contrary to what we normally think. Being the strongest or the smartest is not always enough to ensure survival. Adaptability to a changing environment is required. In business that’s called “innovation.”
Innovation is the natural response to the challenges of nature that could do us in.
In business we learn that we have to innovate and adapt or we don’t survive. Steve Jobs was an innovative genius. Look at what has happened to Apple stock since he disappeared from the landscape. It is down 25 percent as it struggles to compete with Samsung’s electronics and Google’s Android system.
So where does that leave us lesser mortals who run companies and are not creative geniuses on Jobs’ level? Are we doomed? Hardly.
Innovation can be learned even if we are not creative geniuses. Think about everything you do every day of your life. If you want to change a habit that’s creating problems, what do you do? You know that change will not be easy. It requires innovation and determination.
The same holds true for our companies. Every one of our employees finds it very challenging to change from the “usual way of doing things.” So there is natural resistance.
What to do? The Management Association, commonly referred to as MRA, is an excellent example of a company that learned to innovate and successfully adapt to changing times.
MRA was already known for its expertise in human resources, like up-to-date salary surveys, EEOC compliance, employee screening, etc. However, after listening intensely to the 4,000 businesses that they served, they recognized a need to broaden their service offerings.
New technology was engulfing us, creating increased demands and requiring faster speed. So Susan Fronk, president and fearless leader of the organization and who had already digested a major merger with MRA in Minnesota, decided to broaden the services offered to members.
Since MRA is determined to ensure that its member businesses can successfully compete against anyone in the world and because we live in the Age of Innovation, she opened up her CEO roundtables to help members understand the basic tools that drive innovation in any company anywhere.
In recognizing the needs of her members, Fronk also identified the necessity of giving them the tools and capability of teaching lean manufacturing, lean problem-solving and lean project management so that these core competencies are drilled down to the shop floor and into the offices of companies.
MRA introduced the principles of Leadership Excellence that encouraged leaders to self-evaluate against excellence. MRA now provides ways in which members can learn new habits to drive innovative organizations.
MRA could’ve been content to rest on its laurels and rely on its reputation. But it didn’t. Why?
Steve Jobs got so passionate and excited about what he was doing that he would tell his employees and recruits he wanted Apple Computer products to make a “dent in the universe.”
All great businesses that thrive and grow begin with the passionate commitment of the leader. You have to love your product or service to death and believe it will make a “dent in the universe.”
Virtually none of us has the genius of Steve Jobs. But we can decide if we have a passionate commitment and belief in the products and services we offer. Without it, employees will struggle and it will be tough to recruit talented individuals to meet the technological challenges of the competition.
If they have passionate belief in what your company is offering your customers, the customers will in turn feel they are sincerely trying to solve their problems.
Ask yourself this question: Why do we exist?
Do we sincerely believe that we can make a positive difference in people’s lives? If you and your employees can’t answer that question with a passionate belief, then hang it up now. I tell all entrepreneurs who come to BizStarts to let us know what the critical customer problem is that they are trying to solve because that is why their company exists.
You can’t improve anything you do or break unproductive habits unless you listen patiently and take time to fully define the problem your customers face.
Generally Americans are not geared to do that. Harry Quadracci, founder and CEO of Quad/Graphics, had a great way of putting it. He said the Americans’ approach to problem solving is “Shoot, Ready, Aim.”
Customer-focused organizations are more willing to embrace change because they listen and passionately believe in their ability to deliver solutions to the problems they learn about from their customers. MRA chose to listen carefully to members (ready), then innovate service offerings based on what they learned (aim) and finally expand services to members (shoot). The result was success!
So when your business environment starts to change, don’t go the way of the dinosaur. Learn to innovate or die!
Dan Steininger is the president of BizStarts Milwaukee. He can be reached at: Dan@Bizstartsmilwaukee.com.