In the last decade, technology has changed how we do business in dramatic ways. We no longer need to be physically close to a business to buy from them, and we don't rely as heavily on face-to-face interactions. And the reality is, according to Terry Jones, founder of Travelocity, "Change is inevitable, but growth is optional." Businesses who have embraced this change and innovation are the ones who have succeeded.
Jones was the keynote speaker at the 2013 Industrial Supply Association Product Show & Conference in San Diego this week.
But to embrace change and innovation, companies must allow for change and innovation throughout their organizations, Jones said. "Innovation rests on two pillars: culture and team.” If you develop a culture of innovation and build a team of innovators, you've laid the foundation for continuous innovation.
Too often, companies focus on top-down ideas, but often the best ideas come from the bottom up, Jones said, from the people who are closest to your customers. Take away the fear of ideas being dismissed, and you'll see more ideas flow up through the organization.
And also take away the fear of failure. Allow teams to experiment with new ideas without the fear of repercussions if the project fails – regardless of the size of the project. If it fails, "kill the project not the person," Jones said. "If you don't fail, you aren't trying enough." (Read about how Grainger embraced this philosophy in Grainger's E-Commerce Evolution.)
Failure often presents the greatest opportunity to learn and to coach the team in how to do things better. And if you create a culture that embraces change and innovation, it will be easier to build a team that will help you move forward – the second pillar of innovation.
For true innovation, you need to get new ideas and new perspectives flowing through your organization. But don't dismiss the long-term employees who know your business intimately. "You need old world knowledge with new world experience," Jones said. "…Teach old dogs new tricks, and teach new dogs old tricks."
The next generation of employees may not have the extensive knowledge about your industry and business yet, but they have a keen familiarity with the technology being used for business today. They can learn about your business by working with your existing team.
At the same time, your "old dogs" can learn about the new technology driving business success from the "new dogs." "This is the first generation that has actually learned from our kids," Jones said. "They can do digital magic."
Many people are averse to change, but avoiding it altogether is a recipe for business failure. After all, as General Eric Shinseki, former Army Chief of Staff, said: "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less."