When we first start working with clients, we explore the 'Business Life Cycle Curve' (see image below). The business curve is composed on five phases: start up, growth, maturity, decline, and death. It’s an effective tool for quickly assessing where an organization is in its life cycle, and it, along with other tools, often forms the basis for the work we do with clients.
Not long ago, we met with a CEO and executive team and asked them to place their organization on the business curve. They placed themselves solidly in the ‘decline’ portion of the curve, and sadly joked that they had 'near death' experiences as a company every day. While they joked, I could tell that they weren't really laughing and hadn't laughed at work in a very long time. Unfortunately, I could relate.
Having worked as an executive in a cost-cutting environment, I have seen and experienced the stress and anxiety of working in a company on the downward slide of the curve. I could relate to the heavy feeling of responsibility in the room that day. I could also relate to their depleting energy as they worked longer and harder to turn their company around, and the feeling of getting hit with ‘hard knocks’ at every turn.
Looking back on my experience, no matter how hard I tried, I really had no clue how to turn things around.
What I didn't realize at the time was that I was living the Deming 'Red Bead Experiment'. Dr W. Edwards Deming, the great systems thinker that changed manufacturing in the 60's and 70's, ran a simple experiment with red and white beads to illustrate that within a broken system, it doesn't matter how hard employees work, try, or care....their efforts are lost. Dr Deming stated that 94% of issues are due to a broken system; a mere 6% is due to the employees’ efforts, skills, or talents.
You can't turn around without reading or hearing about the need for innovation in today's companies. Recent studies indicate that despite the government's commitment and support with funding for companies to drive innovation, Canada’s business community isn’t listening. In fact, we’re currently ranked 24th in the world for innovation despite our access to resources, support, and talent.
After I read the study, the words of Doug Hall, CEO and founder of Innovation Engineering and Eureka! Ranch International echoed in my mind: “Success is optional,” Doug says. Because, truly, there can't be a connected and well-read CEO in the country who isn't aware of the necessity and impact of innovation, but yet the report indicates they aren't listening or don't know how to make it happen.
What I have discovered since my time in that cost-cutting environment is that while drastic measures may be necessary in a challenging market, it isn’t sufficient. To truly restart that business curve and remain competitive in tough times, companies need to reinvent themselves using innovation to drive new products, services, or markets to stay meaningfully unique to their customers.
I’m proud to say I’ve become a zealot for innovation. And even deeper than that, a zealot for systematizing innovation to enable everyone, everywhere, every day to innovate. Now that I have a proven innovation system that shows me how to innovate, I get to enjoy meaningful work that makes a difference and gets tangible results for the companies I work with.
I'll pick that option any day.