"It’s always about timing. If it’s too soon, no one understands. If it’s too late, everyone’s forgotten.” Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief, Vogue
I love this quote from Anna Wintour because I think it describes a problem we all face. Do we want to be a leader, a fast follower or fashionably late? As a someone who has spent 15 years in the financial services industry, I can tell you that it’s rare to find an organization that says they want to be first out with a solution. It doesn’t mean that it never happens, but it’s rare. Better said, it’s not the norm.
It’s rare because being first at something means you’re willing to receive exposure – good or bad. It means that you’re going to show others that you can be innovative. And even in 2016, innovation can be an intimidating topic. I tend to think of innovation like publicity: any innovation is good innovation, because at it’s core, innovation is something new – whether it’s a new idea, a new process or design or a new product.
Innovation is a challenge for so many organizations because there’s no common definition to which we all subscribe. As a result of this challenge, industries, organizations and even individuals approach innovation in different ways and for different reasons. This deviation is where we observe the two primary approaches to innovation: (a) innovation through creation; and (b) innovation through conversion.
These approaches are not either/or; they can, and often should, be used to complement to each other. Generally, organizations that are deeply invested into innovation employ both approaches. They use innovation through creation to work on patentable concepts or products and services that are new-to-industry while also using innovation through conversion to enhance products already on the shelf. However, in tighter economic environments, an organization must choose. And some environments are under such pressure that they can only afford to invest in innovation through conversion. But that’s okay. Innovation as a strategy is as much an art as it is a science; that’s what makes it a novelty. A creation-centric organization has just as much competition from a conversion-centric organization. It’s not the approach that determines success; it’s the result.