Springtime & Ching Ming – four factors for successful innovation

Springtime. In Wales where I grew up as a child it was a time of gamboling lambs, fields of daffodils, catkins breaking through the iridescent green leaves of hazelnut trees and mushrooms poking their bulbous heads through the lush grass.

The cycles of the world and business are also familiar, but always changing. Spring also comes at the end of Q1. With luck and care the seeds planted in the first quarter sprout their fresh heads. Spring is a time to roll-up ones sleeves and start implementing in earnest the plans started the months before. It’s a time of nurture, but also a time to innovate, to change.

In China, springtime is also the festival of Ching Ming. It’s a time when all families go to the graves of their ancestors to sweep them and give thanks: to clear the cobwebs and reflect. This pause for reflection before the blush of spring and the rush of summer is timely to learn the lessons of the past, stiffen the sinews and prepare for battle to come.

In some ways I feel calmer this year than ever before: the revolution of digital has subsided; the tumultuous shifts have all now happened. Change is not so reckless and fast paced. The task is now to finesse the detail to bring to fruition the full promise of the world we envisioned a decade ago.

The secret to continued success is four parts evolution one part revolution. But it’s always the revolution that requires the bigger focus; by its nature it disrupts and breaks the comfortable status quo. By the nature of corporations, getting people to change their behaviors always creates turmoil.

Sadly, many CEO’s and CMO’s have a consistent track record of failing to deliver against their promise of riding the digital dragon. It’s not just that they were late to the game, it’s that they fail to retain the pace of transformation.

Clay Christenssen, says of the abundant innovation initiatives “My sense is almost all of them will prove to be wasting time for the company, and they will fail”, attributing that failure to there being the lack of requisite organizational support for change. Some progress is made, but gradually the organization slips into old behavior.

So, what are the key qualities required to support and ensure long term change?

Firstly, few CMO’s can articulate their communication vision: Coca-Cola is a notable exception, as is IBM. While many companies are clear about their “north star”, far fewer can talk about how that they envisage interacting with consumers. Without that vision the multiple marketing disciplines cannot be aligned. They are either working in ignorance of what the other is doing; or, worse still, they work in contradiction.

Secondly, leaders need to ask the right questions to inspire people to think and behave differently. The task of leadership is ostensibly to bring together the disparate parts and show people why they should both work together, and celebrate and support their specialisms. Leadership should inspire the people by framing the right questions in the right ways, and rewarding people and teams that respond.

Thirdly, we often attempt to take on too much. The most powerful maxim in large organizations is that simple is best: less sophisticated is more sophisticated. When it comes to new briefs I often take the budget and divide it by ten. It forces fresh thinking. In a world where it is easier to write a piece of communication that you pay to force people to watch it, nothing will ever change until you remove that possibility; until you force the work to work on its own with paid media.

Finally, is the thought that KPI’s must be created in a way that rewards integration and innovation, as well as both short and long term goals. There should only be one key KPI and all activity must demonstrate how it can impact that KPI. Every other measure is simple a measure of showing that progress towards the common goal.

“Once more unto the breach dear friends once more…”

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