To Innovate Requires Failure

Risky Innovation article from Fast Company

You can’t move forward and be a leader and an innovator if you’re only worried about the downside. Adam Brotman, Starbucks Chief Digital Officer

Read the Fast Company article about how Starbucks is succeeding with what they call “Risky Innovation”
From Brotman, “We didn’t have the luxury to say anything other than, ‘We think we got this right, so let’s see what happens.’ There are times when we just completely don’t know how things are going to work.” Some of the most innovative and successful companies take calculated risks.  We should too.  There are several projects the team I led worked on that had the potential to be transformational to the Free Methodist denomination. The challenge with innovation sometimes winds up being a combination of decisions.  One key is to not be afraid to fail.

FMCUSA Website on rollout day in 2011

Four years ago I helped lead the denomination through a complete rebranding in print and online. We migrated over thirty sites which were on their own proprietary content management systems (and some old school static HTML pages) and migrated it all to a WordPress network with multi sites. As we thought through how to get content to mobile devices, native apps were key –  in 2010. Tablets weren’t yet gaining traction so apps were critical in distributing content outside a browser. Not too long after this, responsive design began to become more mainstream. With the birth of a slew of different platforms and device screens, innovation began to move away from native apps to responsive design. Since then, the team has been quietly engineering the content on the web platform and should be releasing a responsive version soon. The apps will eventually be put out to pasture to move the audience to one ubiquitous platform. At the time we couldn’t wait for responsive. Innovation changes. We have to change with it. From that season, I learned three key principles for innovation:

Be Diligent

We knew we needed to migrate things to one CMS. We did the research on all available and decided on WordPress. As we looked at mobile and tablet apps, we talked to different people about building custom apps, using app ecosystems/CMS products, or not using apps at all. We created a matrix and lined it up with our budgets. We then took market research on the growth of mobile to propose investment in mobile. Everything we did in building this platform was done with a few trusted team members and industry leaders outside. We did our research. Then we made our play. Doing diligence enabled us to feel confident about the direction we were moving a denomination and prepare for the hard road ahead.

Be Fearless

After we did our research and put together proposals, timelines and found strategic partners, it’s important to be fearless. Many times with innovation there is no roadmap. You’re creating it. Sure there will be bumps in the road, but if you know the direction you need to head, be fearless in the pursuit of that goal.  As we began to work with other internal departments on migrating to one platform, there was a significant push back on collaboration. The tech was the easy part. Culture wasn’t. It took time and many meetings to bridge gaps – lots of hard conversations. Even with stats and a strategic plan that we thought made perfect sense, others didn’t see it that way. As a leader you’re out in front. Don’t be afraid to forge ahead beyond other’s fears or reservations.

Be Flexible

When you innovate, you’re sure to come up against roadblocks and challenges. Don’t be so proud that you can’t deviate from the original plan. Throughout the process we came up against obstacles. Some were relational and internal.  Some were technology-related. One department in particular refused to use the information architectural structure we had setup. After many revisions and headaches, we arrived at a compromise. Honestly, neither of us were satisfied. But the project kept moving forward and we reached our goal. Anyone who’s ever designed or created something understands that the final product is rarely exactly like the first draft. Anyone ever built a house? There’s always a blueprint. But there’s also game time decisions. Be flexible enough to keep moving in the right direction without it always having to be your way.

Results

These ideas and principles can transfer to most any context.  All you need to do is have the courage to innovate – and not to be afraid.  The greatest innovative companies took risks.  They succeeded and failed.  But they kept moving forward to fruitfulness.  You can too.  By the way, once we got the platform up and running, it increased the overall audience by 200% in the first 30 days.  Four years later, it’s more than twice that much.  The hard work paid off.

Question

What is keeping you from taking the next step? Diligence? Fear? Flexibility? Comments and questions always welcome.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.