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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Innovation Strategy - Fight the Fear of Change

by Paul Sloane

Fear of the UnknownPeople are naturally apprehensive about change. They fear the unknown. There is a reluctance to take risks. This can be particularly true in a successful enterprise. Success can be an enemy of innovation. Why mess with a model that works? There is little incentive to take risks and try new things. But even successful companies are at risk if they stand still. Polaroid Corporation was a leader in its field but digital camera technology dealt it a serious blow and pushed it into Chapter 11. Smith Corona was very successful making typewriters but the advent of word processors proved fatal.

Overcoming the fear of change is a key objective for innovative leaders. They will need to take this issue head-on. They must engage people in a dialogue and discuss the risks and benefits of standing still or of innovating. The types of messages they strive to convey are:
  • We are doing well right now but we need to do better

  • We must fight the risk of complacency

  • If we don't find new ways to reach and delight our customers then others will do it for us

  • There is a risk in innovating but there is a bigger risk in standing still

  • Change can be a big positive for us if we can drive it in the direction we want

Leaders must promote a dialogue where, in addition to telling these messages, they listen to people's concerns and solicit their input. You can turn negative people around by asking for their views on how to make things better. When asked, they will often volunteer great ideas for how we can make the change a big success.

Here are some tools you can use in the battle to win the hearts and minds of your people:
  • Stories about companies that focussed on what they did well and who missed the next big wave

  • Examples of how we lost business to more innovative competitors

  • Examples of how we won business by doing something new

  • Praise for risk-takers and entrepreneurs within the business who have helped to drive change - successfully or unsuccessfully

Innovation involves taking risks, changing things that work and coping with failures. Many people find it an uncomfortable journey. It can be a very bumpy ride but the alternative is to stay in the same place and slowly wither.


Innovative leaders constantly evangelize the need for change. They replace the comfort of complacency with the hunger of ambition. We are doing well but we cannot rest on our laurels - we need to do even better. They explain that while trying new ventures is risky standing still is riskier. They must paint a picture that shows an appealing future that is worth taking risks to achieve. The prospect involves perils and opportunities. The only way we can get there is by embracing change.

Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.

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Blogger Robert Dempsey said...

Great post Paul. I think you hit the nail on the head that if companies don't continue to innovate then their competitors will do it for them. This is how small companies are able to dethrone much larger ones. They take risks and reap the rewards. A few great books I would recommend on the subject are "How the Mighty Fall" by Jim Collins, and "The Profit Zone" by Adrian Slywotzky.

5:39 AM  
Anonymous José Baldaia said...

Good examples should be followed, but the history of each individual can also help to accept and even promote change.
If each one of us does an analysis on how many “small large steps” already taken, you will find certainly positive signs of change.
Even when we see situations less good we find reasons to say: "What if I did it in a different way?". These questions may be used to believe that change can be good, especially because, with the experience we built wisdom.
Just as a father or a mother "tries" to keep up with growth, new customs and habits of their children, a leader must be aware and monitor their employees, customers or partners, and as a leader, he must promote change every time the environment where it operates requires it , (egg, Environment, Social Responsibility, etc.).
Is good to remember “When it comes to innovation, trust your intuition."

1:29 PM  
Blogger Ramna said...

While managing the change, it helps if you can demonstrate some early successes, may be through small but attainable milestones. Nothing promotes innovation and rallies Nay sayers like some early success stories.

4:45 AM  

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