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Making change (mostly) painless

By Joanne Jacobs

Disruptive change in business is, by definition, often painful. Indeed it can be seen as a double edged sword; those businesses who invest in successful disruptive innovation can move in to a market leadership position, where those businesses that fail to invest, or that back a less successful innovation, can be at risk of market failure. But it is possible to prepare for disruption in business with a rapid prototyping model of innovation.

Rapid prototyping may have been around a long time, but Agile Development has brought the concept more in to the mainstream. It is now understood to mean a process of managing fast failure rather than mere iterative innovation. That is, small but regular investments and validation techniques are deployed, and any product or market failures can be quickly addressed, reducing the overall risk in innovation development.

This notion of fast failure is crucial. It is all very well to modularise development of innovations in business products, processes and technologies (effectively Waterfall development), but unless there is validation of each step of development, then the risk of innovation investment grows with ongoing development. It’s not just a single investment risk, but multiple risks which compound upon one another, the longer the gap is between development and validation.

So how do you make change mostly painless? You invest in a fast failure model of business innovation. You don’t attach large sums of money to an internal R&D department or agency provider, charged with coming up with a single product, process or initiative that will change the way a business serves its clients. Instead, you bring in the talent who can address high level problems in a fast, collaborative and stimulating environment. Then you progress the outputs of those sessions with fast implementation, fast validation and fast release.

As one of our clients described it the other day, you basically engineer a pressurized environment, much like that depicted in reality television DIY series, and you apply it to a business.

Of course, the fast failure model will necessarily open a business up to the scrutiny of external innovators and strategists, and this in and of itself can be considered a painful process for some large organisations. But transparency of business vulnerability is more likely to generate trust in a brand, particularly where these issues are addressed quickly. You’re far more likely to see large values wiped off the share price of companies where there was no indication of trouble, and directly prior to the publication of quarterly earnings, than where a firm is more transparent about its business improvement program.

Finally, making change painless requires some change in policies, both within a company and more broadly. As Catherine Livingstone noted in a speech yesterday, policies that strangle connectivity and the development of disruptive innovation are the greatest risk to business and the community generally.

Making change painless then, requires adoption of frameworks for change now. The longer firms resist the drive to change, the greater the pain will be when change is thrust upon them. Disruption is no longer a choice, but an inevitability.

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