Innovation requires a shift in mindset

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2019 is in full swing and it’s safe to say what the buzzwords of the year will be: innovation, disruption, AI and blockchain. Newsfeeds are abounding about how these technologies will automate the accountant’s role and their potential impact on the profession as a whole. "How much is hype?" and "When will these advancements really affect my business?" are the most common reactions to all of the noise.

More progressive firms, rather, ask how they can be innovative and get ahead of the disruption. Unfortunately, the firms that want to be innovative are so busy with client service and operational needs that they have no time to invest in creating an innovation strategy, much less aligning it with their business and growth strategies. So where do we start to keep up with the fast pace of change?

At the inception of all emerging technology is an innovation trigger. As early adopters begin developing solutions, the hype reverberates through the ecosphere about what is to come. But like any hot topic, if you throw the buzzword around too much, it loses its impact and the meaning becomes nebulous. To future-proof your business, you must be able to focus and drown out all the noise to clearly identify how you will be innovative. The problem is that most organizations make two fundamental mistakes in approaching the topic:

  1. Assuming there is an endpoint to the disruption; and
  2. Focusing on what everyone else is doing.

Organizations in general are far too fixated on predicting where the next disruptor will come from. Rather than wait for change to happen, we need to disrupt ourselves -- as a firm, business and profession. If we rethink how things could be, and what our customer experience should offer, we can garner new insights to reimagine what our business ought to look like and how we can leverage our own capabilities to get there. We have the power to shape our own future.

This is much more difficult for large organizations, as they are steeped with SOPs, guidelines, and hierarchical limitations. Plus, the bigger the corporation the less agile, and unfortunately a pressure to be perfect rather than allowance for risk. Startups don’t have anything to lose, so they shoot for the stars; if they land on the moon, they have still left the competition behind.

The real problem is mindset

So how did we get here? Many would argue that it is a generational issues within firms. I disagree. In fact, I think that is an easy reproach to a cultural issue. We have been trained, especially in accounting, that to move forward on any initiative we must first have budgets, projections and a clear understanding of ROI.

On top of that, we keep attaching words like “today, tomorrow, future, now” and so on to discussions around disruption and innovation -- like there is a mountain at the end of this road and we are all waiting for someone to tell us we have reached the apex. That’s not going happen! We are living in times of exponential change. There will be no end to innovation or disruption. It will be constantly occurring and move from one emerging trend to the next. Even if your company gets a win and is innovative in a product or service delivery, you can’t stop there. You must continue to evolve, because what is the disruptor today will be the norm tomorrow and the competition will replicate whatever you have done -- which in turn eliminates the innovative aspect of what you are offering.

Please note: Technology and innovation are not the same. You can be innovative in service-line, customer experience and delivery. Not everyone needs to be a software developer!

How do we resolve this dichotomy of thought?

Considering the hyper-competitive landscape of today, and the multitude of decisions that must be made to achieve your strategic growth, it is imperative that we focus on the fundamentals of strategy that yield the most significant opportunities. Unfortunately, most business strategies revolve around high-growth and low-cost -- not the opportunity. Far too focused on financials and marginalizing the topics of innovation and differentiation, leaders must realign and identify the most pressing issues while fostering a creative environment to get to the end-game. Strategic decisions shouldn’t be formulated by the same one to two people. We need:

  • Team engagement;
  • Cognitive diversity;
  • Immersive experiences that yield creativity; and
  • An end the cycle of discretionary funding for innovation.

Can we all agree it is time to eliminate the templates? How do set structures fuel anything creative when they are forcing thought processes in a singular direction? Innovation is not formed through black-and-white/right-and-wrong exercises. This dichotomy of thought creates a myopic process that is broken.

Let’s improve team engagement and ensure cognitive diversity in the strategic planning process by shifting to an immersive experience with visualization sessions. Further, we need to shift our culture to not look at this process and its outputs as discretionary expenses, but rather to nurture innovation and invest in the process, as well as the necessary actions to bring those ideas to fruition. Because when all is said and done, innovation will be the foundation of our future revenue potential, not just a line item.

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