Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Avoid Innovation Extinction. Be A Crocodile For A While.

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

In business, as is the case sometimes in other walks of life – like when your kids make reference to you in this manner – the word dinosaur has become a somewhat derogatory term. To be a dinosaur means you’re old, out of touch, irrelevant, perhaps metaphorically extinct. Nobody wants to be a dinosaur. (Fortunately my kids don’t yet refer to me as a dinosaur. I’m just a geek and somewhat embarrassing at times.)

I’m not a big proponent when times are tough, of slashing costs and putting innovation initiatives on hold. This seems like a fast track to extinction. Arguably it is in a recessionary milieu that innovation and investment is most required. But what happens when the investment money for substantial product and service innovation simply isn’t available? What happens when cost-cutting seems like the only viable option? Does your business or brand run the risk of becoming a ‘has been’?

The actual dinosaurs are long gone. The reason for their extinction can be debated - climate change, meteor, the advent of chain-smoking. It’s hard to say with certainty. Oft forgotten though in the midst of any dinosaur discussion is the fact that some creatures survived great extinction events. Namely crocodiles and alligators.

How did crocodiles and alligators survive for more than 200 million years? How did they emerge from their own recessionary milieu that sealed the fate of the dinosaurs? They didn’t rapidly evolve (or innovate) their way to survival. The crocodiles and alligators roaming the earth today are virtually no different than those roaming the earth a few hundred million years ago. So how did they do it?

Perhaps it was their thick skin, their take-crap-from-no one attitude, and big teeth.

There are different ways to innovate. Innovation isn’t inherently always specifically about products and services. Sometimes innovation takes shape in how we go about doing business. Sometimes innovation can be a shift in attitude. Sometimes it’s about deploying your existing resources in different ways.

Only you and your team can rightfully decide whether to invest in product and service innovation. You hold the purse strings. And should you decide to cut costs or pull back from investment, know that you aren’t automatically relegated to dinosaur status. Develop a thicker skin, take crap from no one, and utilize your existing big teeth to take a bite out of the competition.

Be a crocodile for a while.

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