The work of innovation is a work in progress, but that doesn’t mean it will never yield any results along the way. But wait, before I get there, let’s define, what is innovation?
My favorite and I think an appropriate definition of today’s innovation comes from Clayton Christensen, “Innovation is a change in labor, capital, materials, and information into products and services of greater value.”
There are a lot of companies focusing their innovation that enable them to be more nimble during today’s unprecedented situation. They are able to switch their business model so quickly and transform their supply chain to help them stay in the game.
Take for example Abang Udin. He sells kuih (Malay desserts) near my area. In normal days before the Malaysia Movement Control Order (MCO or more commonly known as lockdown), he will open his stalls and showcase all the desserts he has from his suppliers (some of which he made himself with his wife). During the MCO, he was unable to operate.
Did he lose income? Yes, for a while. He stopped for about one week, he calibrated behind closed doors his supply chain and he is back in business. He now offers delivery service (with a small fee) to deliver kuih and nasi lemak (Malay coconut milk rice).
Prior to this, Abang Udin never had any delivery service because he doesn’t need to. All of his customers went to this stall every morning. They bought from him and paid him cash. When other passersby saw his stall with a lot of people, they will go there as well. It used to be crowded in front of his stall. Now, it is no longer there.
If I were to take the concept of Innovation Focus and map what Abang Udin did, you will get a better idea. Let’s take a look.
Prior to the MCO, most companies innovation focus is on Stability, including Abang Udin’s. Just ensure the business stable and float. Make some products and services, make some profits and it goes on like that. There’s little thinking or planning about doing other things or other channels. It doesn’t have to be because there’s little need and there’s some cost to spend. Why bother?
During the MCO, many businesses were caught unaware, including Abang Udin’s. He stopped for a while and came out with a plan to change his business model. This time around his innovation focus is on Adversity. During this situation, he had to make a drastic change to ensure his business stayed on. He had to do more work and get paid slightly more (often the same or less because customers are no longer able to see his crowded stall). But he still makes some products, created a new service and make some money for his family.
Now the MCO is partially lifted, he plans to maintain the delivery service because he noticed the customers’ behavior changed. Just like any business that has been given a glimpse of the future, his innovation focus now is on Survivability. He needs to ensure the roadside stall and delivery can go hand in hand even it means he will have to fork out some expenses to maintain those services.
But, a thought come in his mind. What if he could make this permanently with more effective routing service and efficient production? How can he build this new channel as part of his new offering? What does he need to do? What does he need to let go of? What does he need to acquire? Now his innovation focus is on Sustainability. Ultimately he will continue his innovation focus is on Humanity – where his reason for being is to serve the communities around him.
Don’t you worry about Abang Udin, he has now found a new joy in growing his “new” business. But your business probably not as smallish as Abang Udin. Your business also not a 1,000x greater than his. Your business is unique and your customers are far different.
You need to ask, where is your innovation focus now?