To stay competitive in today's fast-moving world, companies need to drive value with more creative innovation commoditized faster.
Innovation today is moving faster than ever. In the last two years, we collected 90 percent of the world's data from various sources, like social media posts and online purchases to GPS tracking and health devices. In 2023, 91.6 percent of Fortune 1000 companies planned to invest in Big Data and AI to stay competitive. By 2026, experts predict the wearable AI market to be worth $69.51 billion, and by 2030, 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet of Things.
But no matter the context of innovation, the key to generating value for a company or an individual is always the same: commoditize creativity fast. Here's how:
Creativity provides value
Innovation requires creativity, which comes from two sources: 1) When people look to solve problems they encounter themselves, or 2) They set themselves against benchmark practices within the broader community, notice themselves falling behind and figure out what they need to fix before their competitors find a similar (or improved) solution. This is essentially the formula for a startup: Someone takes a creative idea and commoditizes it fast to reach as many clients as possible and generate more value.
The more people in a company come up with creative ideas, the better equipped it is to draw out continuous room for improvement and increased value. Each employee brings a unique perspective capable of creativity that others might never have considered. Leadership needs access to their creativity so they can act on good ideas quickly and start maximizing their value quickly.
A call center worker following their daily procedure could be the first person to notice and fix a bug that customers are encountering. Their creativity has value to the individual they serviced, but unless that worker can find the owner of the broken process, share their creative solution and commoditize that creativity with the rest of the team, that value is limited. More customers may call with the same bug, tying up workers who may not have a viable solution. The sooner creativity is commoditized, the greater the advantages for the company, which maximizes its value.
Commoditizing drives value
Any innovation that has value can be commoditized to amplify such value toward its possible maximum — a product, a process or just an idea for improvement — and such value is not necessarily limited to a monetary return. When I go online and find an article for a great home remedy for stomach problems, someone has already commoditized their creative idea by writing that article. They may have done so for money or because they experienced relief from stomach problems and enjoyed helping others share those benefits. They may also have valued establishing themselves as an authority on home remedies online, and by commoditizing their creativity, they reached a broader audience to maximize that value.
I could now take that article, improve on the remedy's recipe and create a new idea, but unless I commoditize it by sharing it with others, that idea can only provide value to me. Depending on what I value — money, authority or sharing important information — I can create strategies to spread my creativity to the right people to maximize that value. By knowing what value I want to drive, I can maximize it more effectively.
Most for-profit companies value sustained profits and more impact on their client success, but even greater nuance in their value propositions may guide more targeted success. Leadership should identify and make clear what they value to everyone in the organization and encourage them to identify creative ideas to innovate their work in a way that drives that value. Anyone who identifies ways to improve their work and increase that profit or impact can take those ideas through the next phases of commoditization.
Commoditization at speeds maximizes value
Duplicating an invention or an improvement so others beyond the original inventor can benefit from it increases its value, but to maximize that value, its inventor needs to scale up fast. Staying ahead of competitors, solving internal problems, creating more efficient and effective practices — all of these creative ideas are more valuable the faster they are implemented and scaled. Speed keeps innovators ahead of the competition, but it also saves the time, money and resources that not acting on an innovative solution would cost.
Take, for example, a tree planted in a parking lot alongside a highway that is constantly the cause of accidents. I may notice the species has drooping limbs that block the visibility of cars exiting the lot and realize that relocating the tree to a different area would be safer for everyone. The faster I report that creative idea to the parking lot owner, the more potential injuries and harm I can prevent, making my idea more valuable. The quicker I can get that news to other parking lot designers, the better equipped they are to reconsider dangerous landscaping at other locations, preventing more accidents and maximizing the value of my idea because of lives saved and costly damages avoided.
To bring new ideas to the right people when a creative idea strikes, leaders need to establish a commoditization process. "Whenever creativity happens, I act [in this way]." Everyone should know how to move creative ideas to the next steps for implementation: reporting to a supervisor or submitting to a peer or group review, who then passes the idea to the owner of the production line. There should also be a step in that process for deciding how much to push that idea to wider company use and commoditize that creativity in more ways to deliver more value with better efficiency.
Commoditizing creativity fast may eliminate some jobs, but the evolution of labor is inevitable and not necessarily bad. Agriculture underwent several transformations throughout history to become more productive with fewer workers, freeing up entire families living subsistence lifestyles to have more time to seek out new careers and ways to innovate. People in eliminated positions will likely adapt to survive, figuring out new ways to apply their skill sets to meet new demands and increase their personal value. From a tree to a call center and everything in between, the process of generating value is ubiquitous: The faster we identify and commoditize creativity, the more value we generate.
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Core Values and Practices Are Booster Fuel for Your Business. Here's How to Establish the Right Ones.
As a business leader, are you looking for your team to increase efficiency and productivity, improve communication and make better decisions? Creating a positive culture by implementing values and practices may be the answer.
As a long-time strategy consultant, I learned early on in my career that if I wanted my clients' businesses to succeed — financially and otherwise — then I had to first help them clarify and strengthen their business culture. This idea is backed by Peter Drucker, one of the most prominent management consultants of all time, when he said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."
Culture, however, is a pretty amorphous idea. It's sort of like love. You know what it feels like but it can be a hard thing to describe and/or know how to build. That's where your business' values and practices come in.
Values and practices clarify how your team thinks and acts and serve as the bedrock of your company culture. Capturing, communicating and living a succinct and well-defined set of values and practices is pure gold that directly leads to:
Here are some time-tested ideas about both creating values and practices and how to best implement them.
Values vs. practices
Values and practices are similar in that they both are meant to describe the ways that you and your team think and act. However, values are more general and lofty while practices describe practical and specific actions.
Below is a brief list of some values and practices that will help you differentiate between the two.
As you can see, some of the values are only one word and others are short phrases; either way works. Also, note that each of the practices begins with a verb to make them active.
Some key tips for establishing values and practices
There are a variety of ways to establish and implement your ideas, but the most important thing is to focus on values first. Once you've created a set of values then you can move on to identifying your practices. It can be a bit much to tackle both at the same time, but your values can help inform your practices.
Resist the temptation to list all of the values of your business. What you're seeking are four core values that are especially unique to your business. You're looking for non-negotiable qualities of your company and culture that differentiates you from others in your space.
You want to keep your list of practices to a manageable size. I recommend having 10 practices. Because practices are much more specific and tactical, having a larger list than your values is fine.
When eliciting potential values and practices, ask your team for advice. Ask them about a staff member who represents what is best about your business. What are their core qualities? What do they do well? Alternatively, ask them to think of some former staff members that weren't a good match for your company. What were their qualities and/or work habits that made them a mismatch for your culture?
Implementation and revision
After creating your values and practices, don't let them collect dust! Determine how you can apply them to daily operations so they stay top-of-mind and have a better chance at guiding the creation of your business culture. Here are some examples:
As you implement your values and practices, you're going to learn about what works and what doesn't. As such, be prepared to revise them. At my company, we have a solid set of values and practices that we spent a fair amount of time creating. But as our business evolves and we bring on new team members, we revisit the values and practices and revise them as needed.
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Jennifer Dawn’s client had built her company to $750,000 in revenue but was losing enthusiasm for the business. “It had sucked the life out of her,” says Dawn, who runs Jennifer Dawn Coaching in New York City. “She started to hate the business and it was tanking.”
Revenue gradually slipped to $500,000. Dawn worked with her on marketing and other key areas of the business rebuild her sales—and also encouraged her to start exercising and otherwise taking care of herself. The client gradually built sales back to $1 million.
Then the pandemic hit—and the schools the client served in the business were closed. “I’m going to lose my business,” she told Dawn.
Dawn encouraged her to launch a digital product, making the most of the time during the pandemic when business was slow, and she hit $1 million with it. Now the business is on track for $2 million in annual revenue.
Clients like this are not uncommon for Dawn, who is focused on helping businesses get to the 7-figure revenue mark at Jennifer Dawn Coaching and also runs the Happy Productive Podcast, focused on productivity for entrepreneurs. She taps what she learned about both mindset and the practicalities of scaling when running a previous firm that developed point-of-sale systems for amusement parks and growing it to more than $1 million in sales annually.
Recently, she shared three strategies she uses to help clients get to $1 million in revenue and beyond.
Make sure you’re doing the right things every day. Many small business owners struggle with time management and get caught up in putting out fires for clients or cleaning up after their team, Dawn says. A simple decision like scheduling your own calls can have big implications, by keeping you away from more important activities, like lead generation, she points out. “They don't know that every day I should be getting something that pushes me out of my comfort zone, that gets me closer to that million-dollar mark,” she says.
Don’t neglect your physical health, soul and sanity to grow the business. Many owners let themselves get so burned out, stressed out and overwhelmed they are not showing up as their “best self” at the business, Dawn finds. “When they don't take care of themselves, they are sick all the time. They didn't get their stuff done. They just don't feel well, and, and they just don't get the results that the owners who take their health and make it a priority do,” says Dawn.
Sometimes, just taking the first step—like eating one raw food a day—is all it takes to build momentum. “We start rebuilding their habits and, and when we do that and they start feeling better, then they have the energy they need and are more motivated,” says Dawn.
Ultimately, if you want to grow your business, you need to block out time to take care of yourself, she believes. “It’s about taking the time to exercise, to eat some healthy food so that you have the vitality and the energy to show up and deal with all the challenges, and you're thinking clearly,” says Dawn, who believes so strongly in the importance of physical health for small business owners that she has a health coach on her team.
Follow the money. Dawn teaches clients to use Profit First accounting, a cash management system that gives them more knowledge of the money coming in and out of their businesses, and helps them make informed budgeting and strategic decisions. “It helps them understand where their money goes,” she says.
It might seem like putting systems in place to track revenue and cash outflows would be natural for entrepreneurs, but often, there’s a knowing-doing gap. Having a system to rely on helps to keep things on track, she finds.
“When you’re a business owner, it’s so easy to have so many things in progress that you’re not focusing on these things,” says Dawn.
Image Credit: JENNIFER DAWN COACHING
'That's How We've Always Done It' is Killing Your Business — Here are 4 Simple Ways to Cultivate Consistent Success
The business world will only get harder, sharper and more competitive. The last thing we can afford to do is let inertia hold us back.
Nothing can make a business more irrelevant than saying, "That's how we've always done it." Relying on existing ideas and processes is attractive. After all, if your business is built on one way of operating, why would you risk trying something new?
Here's one reason: of the companies listed in the 1955 edition of the Fortune 500 list, 87% no longer exist — primarily due to failures to deal with disruptive forces within their respective industries. Counterintuitively, it's inertia that can kill businesses. The pace with which our world changes is only increasing, and failure to adapt to those changes can be fatal.
The problem is that the practices that made a company successful can just as easily cause it to fall into a rut. As companies begin to experience success, they inevitably start to document, mature and formalize their policies and procedures. A one-person bakery can afford to play fast and loose with how to make this week's lemon cupcakes, but you'd better bet that a behemoth like Little Debbie or Hostess has the ingredients and recipes for its products specified down to the finest detail.
As businesses in any field mature, they will by nature and necessity develop strong organizational norms and processes for how things need to be done to stay successful. They have to develop such habits to be successful in the first place.
And if they want to stay successful, they then must learn how to break them.
Breaking the habits
The best-run startups are a storm that can capsize even the biggest corporate ships. Whether it's Amazon killing Bed Bath & Beyond, Tesla dethroning Toyota in market capitalization, or Open AI rocking every industry to the core, focused start-ups can topple giants in the blink of an eye. Transformational changes are everywhere today, from pandemic-related industry upheavals to an increasingly remote workforce to generative AI.
Every industry and company has to ask itself what it will look like in the next 10 years. It's our job in the leadership teams of established companies to prepare our colleagues for the massive changes coming our way and to foster workplace cultures that can thrive through the change.
I spent the last two years studying innovation while earning a master's in entrepreneurship from Cambridge University Judge Business School. Contrary to what many believe, entrepreneurship isn't just about a bunch of hoodie-wearing goofballs from MIT coding in a garage. At its core, it's a process that big businesses must follow if they want to succeed. Here are four simple tips businesses can use to think and act more like a start-up.
1. Leaders must keep their colleagues educated
As leaders, we're expected to watch the marketplace, understand the transitions underway and plan how our companies move forward. We won't move an inch, however, if we don't do a good job bringing our colleagues along for the ride. A new policy or initiative may make all the sense in the world, but if the people we're relying on to implement it don't understand or buy into the reasoning behind it, progress will grind to a halt.
Inertia will rear its head as people prefer to stick to the old techniques that have always worked before. Getting our colleagues working from the same facts and showing why change is needed helps us break habits that are no longer working.
2. Leaders must build a psychologically safe workplace culture
We need workplaces where new ideas are welcomed and encouraged and where failure isn't something to be ashamed of. Failure is bound to occur in a company that's actively experimenting with trying truly new ideas. If 100% of a company's new initiatives are successful, something's wrong within that company.
Those are the results not of a culture embracing change but one with personnel playing it safe and afraid to fail. If we don't permit our people to fall flat on their faces now and again, we're falling prey to the inertia trap and setting our businesses up to wither.
3. Leaders must generate new ideas from within an organization
Even if your company is open to new concepts, ask yourself what you're doing to get new ideas in the door. Consider implementing slack time, structured opportunities for your teams to get out of the daily grind and develop new concepts. Sponsor a "hackathon" where you challenge teams to solve problems in new, innovative ways quickly. At worst, you've created a team-building exercise and learned something about your people. At best, you might just stumble onto the idea that carries your company into the next decade.
4. Don't get stuck in quicksand
Once you have your new ideas, you cannot allow them to get caught in big-business quicksand. There's no sense in spending time and energy creating a suite of initiatives that promptly die in committee. Figure out ways to pilot these ideas in a controlled but scalable way. If they flame out (as many, if not most, will), figure out quickly whether to abandon the concepts or iterate them into something new. If they look like they're working, roll them out and keep your company moving forward. Don't let committees, negativity, or failure stop you. Don't. Keep moving, keep trying and keep assuming that next year's model of your company will run better than the current one.
None of this is easy, and none of this happens overnight. But none of it is optional, either. The business world will only get harder, sharper and more competitive. The last thing any of us can afford to do is let inertia hold us back.
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