Innovation? Sure—But What Does It Really Mean?
You’ve likely seen the following in some communications (well, all communications…) from Abaco:
We innovate. We deliver. You succeed.
We all think we know what “deliver” means. It means that if we say we’ll do something—we do it. If we make a commitment—we live up to it. If a customer wants delivery four weeks from now—that’s what we work towards (and how we measure on-time delivery).
Defining our customers’ success isn’t so hard, either. If our customers are winning business, if they’re growing, if they’re profitable, if they’re satisfying their own customers—they’d probably say they were succeeding. We believe we have a role to play in that.
But what does “innovate” mean? The first thing to say is that it’s a word that’s grossly over-used. Everyone says they innovate. Everything is innovative. Companies know they’re supposed to be innovators—so that’s what they say they are.
We’ve talked a lot internally about what it means for us to innovate. We reached a few conclusions. The first is that an innovation delivers a significantly better outcome than was possible before.
That led us to ask ourselves what we mean by “significant”—another over-used word. We concluded that we wanted to define it as “30%.” That number may be arbitrary—but using a number sets a goal that we can measure our innovation by. And, of course, if you don’t measure something, you don’t know whether you’re succeeding or not.
Benefiting our customers
Having set a goal, we knew we needed to return to the subject of “outcomes.” What did that mean? It wasn’t hard for us to see that the only worthwhile outcome of innovation was something that was valued by—had meaning for—our customers. And: if delivering those outcomes benefits our customers, and benefits us as a company and benefits our people, then everyone wins.
Finally, we moved to the question of what an innovation is. Ask anyone to name an innovation and they might say the Sony Walkman, or the Apple iPod. It’s easy to believe that innovation = product. And, sure: we’re working on innovative products.
But it doesn’t have to be products. If, for example, we put in place a process that measures our business first and foremost on whether or not we make our commitments to customers—that would be innovative, right? And if it resulted in us doing a job for our customers that was at least 30% better—it would be significant. It goes without saying that it would be valued by our customers.
Or supposing we put in place processes that made our products 30% (or more) more manufacturable, so that we can ship on time 30% (or more) more consistently? Or simplified our process for handling every aspect of our commercial activity from receipt of an inquiry to shipment, so that elapsed time was at least 30% better?
The key is that these are not incremental, step changes—like Walkman and iPod weren’t incremental changes in the way we listen to music. These are significant changes with significant impact—the real definition of innovation.
We can’t claim we’re there yet. Innovating in the way I’ve described isn’t an overnight process. But it’s that kind of thinking that is transforming Abaco—and that we believe will have a profound and positive impact on our customers.