Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Taking the Next Step to Ensure Your Company’s Survival and Future Growth


By Len Ferman

The pace of change in the world is accelerating more rapidly than in any prior age.  Adoption rates for new technologies continue to speed up.  To reach 50% household penetration took 71 years for the telephone, 28 years for the radio, 18 years for color TVs and just 10 years for the internet.  The 21st century business environment demands that companies embrace change or risk becoming irrelevant.  Exceptional companies such as Kodak, Blockbuster and Atari were once the dominant players in their industries.  Now they are relics of the past; defunct companies whose overwhelming leadership position provided no protection as they failed to act on changing industry conditions.  And they are not anomalies.  The corporate lifespan of S&P 500 companies has dropped from 61 years in 1958 to just 18 in 20112.  If companies in the S&P 500 are struggling to endure, then small and medium sized companies need also beware that their present business methods have limited windows of sustainability.  As a result, all companies need to take the next step now to identify how changes in their customers’ needs and their competitive landscape will impact their business.  And then use that information to develop plans for how to survive and thrive in the future.

It’s easy to take the next step.  The old proverb “well begun is half done” (attributed to Aristotle), applies here.  Most businesses fall into the trap of spending all their time focusing on business as usual and no time on planning for the future.  This is a natural tendency since it’s business as usual operations that bring in the cash.  Whereas planning for the future generates no revenue today and new initiatives have uncertain returns.  However, to ensure the long term health of the company there must be a balance.  Think of future planning as exercise for your business.  And once you start a regular program, you are well on your way to increasing your company’s lifespan. This is why I advocate a program of continuous customer innovation.

Continuous customer innovation involves creating the discipline in the company to perform three fundamental practices in a repetitive permanent cycle:

1) Explore changing customer needs, problems and market conditions
2) Generate solutions to those needs, problems and conditions
3) Evaluate and select the best ideas to implement.

Companies that adopt this continuous customer innovation process can help ensure they stay relevant to their existing customers and be attractive to new customers over the long term.
Adopting a continuous customer innovation process requires a commitment from the leadership of the company.  Leadership commitment includes both the adequate funding of the process as well as the acceptance of the process results.  This does not mean that every idea recommended should be implemented, but rather that leadership must at least consider, debate and evaluate the top ideas from each cycle.

Free Information Session
All companies should adopt a continuous customer innovation process.  But what are the specific steps to take?  How can you innovate to make your company more like Google, Apple and 3M and less like Kodak, Blockbuster and Atari?  The UNF Division of Continuing Education can help.  This spring a new course will be offered on the topic of business innovation.  The course will provide both classroom learning as well as hands on skill development in how to innovate for your company’s future.  For more information sign up for a free information session on March 25th.  

About the author:
Len Ferman is an adjunct professor of marketing at the University of North Florida teaching business innovation.  He is also Managing Director of Ferman Innovation, an innovation consulting firm.  Len holds a Masters in Economics and a MBA from Duke University.  He also has 25 years of experience managing innovation at Fortune 100 companies.  Until 2013, he was the head of ideation at Bank of America.  Len is also a frequent speaker at major business conferences on the topic of innovation and is a professional member of the National Speakers Association. For more information contact Len Ferman at Len.Ferman@unf.edu.

1 – Census bureau, Consumer Electronics Association, National Cable and Telecommunications Association
2 - http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/13/idUS206536+13-Feb-2012+BW20120213