Five Indicators of Incrementing vs. Innovating

January 22, 2016 by

“A dead fish can float down a stream, but it takes a live one to swim upstream.” – W.C. Fields

It’s a fair bet that taxi companies may not have had the idea of shedding all their vehicles and still providing transportation services. Ditto hotels and real estate. However, they probably had plenty of debates whether to adjust maintenance processes, add credit card payment systems to cars, go to a different supplier of bedding, or replace the carpet in the lobby. Uber and AirBnB, top brands associated with the gig economy, are disrupting both industries without owning cars or beds.

Incrementalism can create a false sense of momentum and improvement when in fact it can be at best barely keeping up and at worst a waste of resources. It may result in an improved  status quo that makes us feel good by doubling-down on past achievements and models, but does nothing to grow the business, delight customers, and engage employees. Here’s five signs that what some may see as innovative, is really just incrementalism.

  1. Still using the same metrics. In years past, IT organizations chased “99.999% uptime,” the holy grail of “five 9’s,” as a way to prove their value. In 2016, IT proves value by contribution to business metrics, such as mobile apps that delight customers and result in higher net promoter scores. Leaders should be making sure they measure what’s important today, not in past decades.
  2. No increase in transparency. The days of “reports” that only get viewed by “upper management” should be long gone. Predictive (or preferably prescriptive) analytics need to be available to all employees to support continuous improvement and push decisions closer to the customer interaction. Holding onto metrics only at the top can signal a fear of disruption because it threatens power and control.
  3. “Checking the box” or viewing compliance as progress. Compliance is doing the stuff that is right to do, that we have to do. Workplace safety. HIPAA. PCI. It’s important but it isn’t innovation. Another form of box-checking is gathering feedback for form’s sake rather than substance. I see this manifested in the ubiquitous “employee focus group,” usually an event where groups of people are asked for opinions. Getting feedback from employees and customers should be constant, so that it can be part of the innovation engine. Executives don’t have all the answers; however we should be good at enabling ways to get the best answers. An organization that relies on periodic meetings to communicate and get feedback is dated.
  4. Employee retention is higher than peers. Wait, what? Aren’t we supposed to be happy about employee longevity? Well, maybe. Make sure retention isn’t masking stagnation. If your employees aren’t being recruited at least once in a while, it could be a sign that you aren’t investing effectively in your workforce. We all have companies that when seen on a resume, cause us to pause. Don’t be that company.
  5. Everybody’s happy. Most people desire progress, but not change. Culture will eat progress for breakfast (and lunch). Innovation requires provoking the “as is,” asking the hard questions. While an organization in constant uproar is no good, if there isn’t discomfort and disruption, then true innovation isn’t happening.

“People have 60,000 thoughts in a day. Unfortunately, 95% of them are the ones they had the day before.” – Deepak Chopra


Have been reading up on #Davos2016, where the World Economic Fund released a report that 5 million jobs will be lost as a result of technology. The job types and fields at most risk, healthcare and financial services among them, have a preponderance of women.

Welcome Centennials, those born 1997 and afterward. They believe in the value of higher education and are more resilient and pragmatic than Millennials.

Social media and digital strategy star @ValaAfshar is teaming up with industry expert @RWang0 on a monthly show … for now called #TheShow.

It is winter, and I know enough to buy ice melt and start my car a few minutes earlier to be sure to stay on schedule in the morning. Why don’t airlines factor in deicing to their departure process in northern climes?

Wi-Fi should be like seat belts in airplanes. Just there and not an extra charge.

And while I’m sniveling about air travel, where’s the Uber for that industry? Surely there are people flying their planes with empty seats from mid-Michigan to southern New Hampshire once in a while.


One response to “Five Indicators of Incrementing vs. Innovating”

  1. “Culture will eat progress for breakfast (and lunch)” is an amazing quote and is so true. As a follow up, how do organizations best know if they are making progress with cultural change?